It was a long flight over -- Movies I'd already seen, but the company was diverse.
We arrived in Nanjing last nite and I'm now writing this from the Internet cafe in the Nanjing University Student Dorms. It still amazes me that I have this computer to work on, but my "shower" this morning was a single jet-stream of cold water. I only shook one cockroach out of my dresser drawer so far and I've successfully managed to bridge the "squatty-potty" obstacle.
It's warm -- muggy -- mornings are pleasant. For those of you who have commented on the firmness of my mattress at home -- you ain't seen nothin' until you've sat on the "beds" here. You certaintly can't complain about lumps. It's not like sleeping on a board -- it's more literal than that.
The people in my group are people of multi-farious skills -- language is not at all easy for me. Basically, I'm COMPLETELY lost when it comes to communication. --Always good to keep my humility in line I suppose. We met our teachers today and were showed to our classroom. We've already two chapters to read and prepare for tomorrow. I still need to buy a bike -- but I did manage to get to the bank and exchange money so I can eat and buy ice cream and water.
Michael and Candy -- (friends in Hong Kong) thanks for the orange!! It was wonderful to have this morning.
Love to all,
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Tuesday, 28 April 1998 7:47 AM
Subject: While you were snoozing
7:15 PM -- Nanjing, PRC -- April 28, 1998
It must be about 4 AM today back home -- so while I'm winding up my day, you're just starting the same one.
I got the bike. It's a flashy, red lady's bike from the 1940's I'm sure -- complete with ling ling (bell) and basket. I don't think you've really lived until you've A) tried to cross the street on foot in downtown Cairo during rush hour and B) road you're bike through rush hour in Nanjing. Bikes, cabs, three-wheeled bikes and motor cars loaded down with eggs, household items -- children and entire families. I got to the bike "shop" by riding side-saddle on the back of Jon's bike (another BYU student) cabs rushing by and grazing my toes, everyone looking at us wondering and pointing at the Meiguoren (Americans) on the bike. :) So, we bartered and bickered around about the bike... and had just come to an agreement (complete with an audience of about 15-20 Chinese observers encircling us)when the bike guy starts throwing the bikes behind the building as fast as he can. We looked up and saw the police and realized that the bikes were probably stolen in the first place--the police took all the remaining bikes away -- then drove off. They pulled my "hot" red bike back out from behind the building -- (no one really batted an eyelash during the whole time). Don't ask if you don't want to know.... :)
You might think that's a bad thing...but at least we didn't buy the little boy the woman down the street was trying to sell us because "she didn't have any money." And, no, that's not a joke.
There are great big numbers under the street lights at the major intersections that tell you how long you have left until the light changes. 45-44-43-.... Once it changes to green you have no choice, but to go because the 300 other cyclists pretty much push you along --everyone ringing their bells and honking their horns.
Mascara went today -- just too hot -- dust and lots of pollution, glad I have my glasses.
LOVED my Chinese classes today!! Great teachers, interesting students studying all sorts of normal things. I feel pretty much at the level I should be in my class. What a relief!! --Two more chapters for tomorrow. We have two teachers a woman and a man, and class lasts four hours M-Th from 8-Noon with a 20 minute break and two 10 minute breaks. Tomorrow morning at 6:15 I start Tai Chi classes --MWF from 6:15 to 7:15 on the third floor of my 20-story dorm building. Our Chinese classes are on the University campus not far from the main gate. I went to a music store today and inquired about a harp instructor. The girl there was especially helpful and is working on finding someone for me. I'll check back with her tomorrow. Culture class is TTh from 2-3 and then on Fridays we go out on field trips with a guide.
Food is FAB_U_LOUS!! I can't get over how good the food is. This morning I stopped at a street corner that looked pretty clean and ordered a bowl of "breakfast soup" -- dumplings, little shrip things with eyes, green onions, ginger etc. etc. -- It was wonderful. The pineapple on a stick is another favorite -- all the chicken with walnut dishes, tomatoes coated in sugar .... lots of rice noodles, beef and pork dishes..... Just think of the best Chinese food you ever had and then think better -- better -- even better than that.
I did have some goose liver pate that didn't quite float my boat, but you don't have to like everything I guess. :) Trying it is 90% of the experience though.
I even had a hot "shower" this morning!! I'm sure I'll recover from my jet lag someday, too -- still waking up at 3 AM.
My hour's up. Sarah.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 29 April 1998 6:40 AM
Subject: Re: Change my address, please
I think the people must have some sort of deal with the police.... Why else would the police SEE the people throwing the bikes back there -- and then only take the ones that were right there on the sidewalk, not fine the people or say anything more to them, and then just drive away as if nothing had happened? Odd, I say. Maybe the police have some sort of quota?
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 29 April 1998 7:23 AM
Subject: Foreign Flux
It's the usual 7Pm Nanjing time.
I'm sore. --Went with my BYU Professor and another classmate, Aaron, on a three-hour bike ride on my stolen Commi-bike to the lake after class. Tons of fun -- really sore. It's not quite Green lake at home either... dirt road, lots of gypsy camps around the lake, a botanical garden -- people working in the garden wearing the straw hats and rolled up sleeves and pant legs... the dirt road is also completely full of mud holes, pot holes, rocks -- but the trees are beautiful and the lake is peaceful. It's refreshing after the long trek there through the city -- competing with cars,lung-fulls of pollution and dust on the windy, but humid day. There's a saxaphone player by the lake -- off by himself in the quiet place. We rode up to talk with him and found out a place to go nearby that has free jazz music to listen to at nite. We'll try it out soon.
We went to the zoo -- I didn't go in. I've heard the animals are quite thin and I just didn't care to see them that way. I guess there's a zoo in S. China that also has a cafe/restaurant that specializes in exotic meats (e.g.leopard and the like) -- hmmmm...
The children are so beautiful. Lots of smiles and laughing -- I love to say "hello" to them -- "ni hao" or just to tell them how beautiful they are. They giggle and smile and look at me with curiosity. I am a strange sight, but not so strange as in other places in China, I'm sure. I've nearly caused a hundred bycicle accidents just by riding my bike in the crowds...people ride by -- stare at me, and then keep staring as they go past without watching where they're going. I smile and either say "hello" or "Ni hao" depending on the mood I'm in. I usually get a surprised smile and nod. I think it's good to simply have the contact and to be out among the people. At first I wanted to blend in -- now, I don't want to be a nusiance, but I don't think it's a bad thing to be different. It's educational for them too.
We saw the Nanjing city wall -- built in the 1300's. Also I observed more women in dresses and dress suits, pant suits and miniskirts riding their bikes -- men in suits with briefcases and lots of people in ragged wear too. The buses are crammed with people -- I"ve not had a need to ride in one yet -- maybe I'll get up the nerve one of these days.
We came home from the three-hour ride pretty well exhausted and covered in dust and mud and sweat. So -- I had my second hot shower of the day. You know, if you have a hot stream of water with good water pressure, tasty food to eat and lots of interesting things to see -- the hard bed becomes soft, the squatty potties become more natural, the language becomes more familiar and as the days go by, you begin to feel more comfortable with your new world.
I'm getting the chopsticks thing down too. :)
Tai chi -- I love Tai Chi class. Our instructor is an elderly woman who's shorter than I. She is very patient and yet very firm in her instruction. I don't think she can speak a word of English. We have class in the morning from 6:15 to 7:15 on the roof of the third floor -- it's an extension sort of from the rest of the building. There is a wall around the patio area about 2 feet tall and that's about it. As we learn the martial arts moves -- slowly and deliberately to her drill-sargent Chinese counting: yi, er, san, si, wuuuuuuuu... the children in the primary school next door begin their morning with ambitious singing. -- The morning is foggy, the children sing their sliding songs and my tai chi-on-the-roof-top ambiance is quite complete. I end my tai chi move by landing in the form of a "goose."
I slept better last nite -- woke up only once at 2:30 and then went back to sleep until 5. I'm sure my bike ride after four hours of solid Chinese classes and Tai chi will assure me a full nite's sleep? ....
Becoming more flexible both physically and mentally,
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Friday, 01 May 1998 3:10 AM
Subject: Latitude 32 deg. 03' N., Longitude 118 deg. 47' E
There's a breeze blowing outside that makes the humidity and heat bearable. Luckily, it's still "cool" here yet. I guess July and August in Nanjing have a reputation which have given it place among the "four furnaces of China."
Most everyone is taking a nap and doing their laundry right now (2PM). Some shops close for the two hour "ciesta" after lunch, but Nanjing is so large (about 3 million inhabitants covering about 4,500 sq. kilometers) that most things are open pretty much all the time. The car horns sixteen stories down from my bedroom window never stop either.
We didn't have formal classes this morning. We went to Zijin Shan or Purple Mountain (the Curling Dragon)to visit a Buddhist Monestary that was moved to it's present location a few hundred years ago so that the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty could build his burial place where it had previously sat. Evidently, the former site has the best "feng shui" in Nanjing. This (as well as most)burial site has never been excavated -- it sits there under the mounds of earth. The Chinese don't want foreigners to excavate it and are evidently waiting until they have the funds and know-how to excavate it properly. Also, burial sites are sacred. This is a large part of why they haven't been un-earthed as well.
We also visited a building that is entirely made of brick -- there are no supporting wooden beams to be found anywhere in the rounded archways. This building is now used as a memorial to many of the honored martyers of China.
After this was a long, winding trek up four, spirialing stories to the top of a pagoda tower. -- Breathtaking scenery. The Mountain area is green -- lush with vegatation and pine trees. There are flowers and birds and people everywhere. It doesn't help that today is a national holiday (International Labor Day)so there's no public school. The sweat dripped down your face and neck as you breathed the thick air. You always feel sticky in this kind of humidity. Somehow, it makes the experience more real. I buy a lot of bing shui (cold, bottled water)and oranges. When you eat out, --which is pretty much every meal for me -- the waitresses give you boiled water to drink. Warm to extra hot water in this heat took some getting used to, but one does and I'm even starting to like it.
From the pagoda I saw rolling hills of this dark green, jungle-like vegetation with brightly colored pagoda peaks poking up here and there -- some yellow, some red, some blue-- but mostly, the rolling hills and misty air above them.
Lastly, we visited Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Mansoleum. The crowds were thicker than the air. I was wishing I were about two feet taller. After climbing the 392 or so steps up to the grave site, you have the opportunity to stand in "line." The gaurds, dressed in army-green and white gloves, allow only so many people in at a time. Each time a group goes in, the crowds push forward with their fans and parasols and you are simply scrunched along in the mass of humanity. So, I struck up a conversation with the people I was scrunched against. It went fairly well. They are patient with my Chinese and understand what I say -- unfortunately, I don't always understand what they say back.
Finally, we get to go in. The inside of the masoleum is marble and granite, with brightly-colored beams on the ceiling -- lots of flowers and "no photos allowed." I suppose this place would be somewhat equivalent to our Lincoln Memorial back home.
Inside is only a white marble cast of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen lying on his bier (he is buried 5 meters below), and the walls are dripping with water. The stench of too many bodies in a small place is a little overwhelming.
Back out into the busy street we find our bus and head back to the dorms. On the way I observe people practicing fan dances, some sort of marshall art using swords, and also people practicing Tai Chi. I must have seen about 5 or 6 wedding parties going by also. The lead car carrying the bride is all decked out with flowers, dolls and red streamers. The cars following have large, red, tinfoil characters on their windshield indicating the wedding party.
Tonite, some Chinese friends are taking some of us to a local disco. --should be fun. --Lots of Neon in Nanjing.
It is common to see men holding hands with other men. They walk down the street with their arms around each other and think nothing of it. They are not homosexual. It is just a part of the culture. The woman also hold hands and walk together arm in arm.
I laid pretty low yesterday. Played some UNO at a cafe with three Chinese men in suits -- just because they were there and so were the three of us and our UNO cards.
There is currently a child throwing a tantrum behind me in Chinese. Children are the same in any language -- sweet and sour Children (he-he).
There are actually several Germans in the building I'm living in. I've had the opportunity to speak German just about every day. Many of them have been here for a year to six years studying and are great sources of information.
I just gave the wash woman my laundry. You bring down your laundry, and she gives you a little red basket to put it into which she then sets on an old green scale to weigh. She tells you how much it will cost (in my case, liu kuai -- six Kuai or about 80 cents.) You then go to the main desk and tell him "wash clothes, six Kuai" = Xi Yifu, Liu Kuai and he gives you a receipt after you pay him for the money. You take this receipt back to the washer woman and fill her cup with your laundry soap (which you provide)and she tells you what time to come pick up your laundry.
This method of purchasing anything is common in the stores I've been to. Pick it out. Take it to a desk. They give you a ticket. Take the ticket to another desk. Pay for the item. They give you a receipt. Take the receipt to the person with your item. They give you your item and you go. --Welcome to Communist China.
She only washes the clothes, I hang them on my make-shift clothes-line to dry. The Germans tell me there's a wash-shop down the street that will wash AND dry my clothes for less. Oh well, this is handy. We Americans tend to squabble over Kuai -- 6 sounds like so many when you think of a Kuai as a dollar -- but the exchange rate is about $1 to 8 Kuai right now.
Still haven't found a harp. Still working on it. I'm going to go to the Student Union building on Monday and see if they can help.
I slept all nite. Ahhhh. Sarah.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Sunday, 03 May 1998 2:02 AM
Subject: Sunday sentiments
A few of you have commented on how much you are enjoying my letters. I'm glad if you're enjoying them. I didn't know if people would find it obnoxious to receive my little updates. I'm not usually one to force my life on unsuspecting e-mail recipients. But, I'm enjoying the writing, if you are enjoying the receiving.
I think it an amazing thing to have this capacity of communication. Homesickness is not an issue at all. Many of you have written from home and it gives me great support. Thank you for your letters.
If there is anything you would particularly like to know about, please write and tell me and I will do my best to answer your questions. I have been given this experience as a gift, I believe, to be shared with others. An experience is only half an experience when kept to one's self.
It is Sunday in China. There is a Catholic and a Presbeterian Church here in town, but no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon or LDS) to be found.
So, being that I am here with other students of my faith, we received permission from the director of the Nanjing University to meet in a classroom nearby and hold our own service. Dressed in our Sunday best the Sacrament was blessed and passed consisting of bread obtained from a local bakery and water passed around in a communial, porcelan (sp?)cup (we're working on getting individual cups).
Yesterday I went shopping. :) Clothes "made in China" are great! I found a beautiful yellow blouse and a wrap-around navy-blue skirt for about $20 US. I also made some new friends. Anytime you're out on the street, if you stop and talk to someone you gather a crowd. One of the people I met is a girl from the University. She's a doctorate student of International Business. We've arranged to meet today about three to talk and exchange English and Chinese help. I also met a little girl and her parents who wanted their daughter to have an American pen-pal. You have to be careful in these exchanges -- I'm never sure how much I can be willing to commit to and what they might expect from me in return. Most of the time, I just listen to my "gut" instict and this time I felt it would be a safe and enjoyable thing. So, I gave her my American address and we'll see what happens. They've invited me to come visit them this Wed. at five o'clock at their store. So, I'll go with a friend.
The disco -- some of you are probably wondering how the dance went? Well, the Monsoon season in China isn't quite over yet. I had ridden my bike over to the University's big play field and had settled myself on the cement, tree-covered bleachers to watch a soccer practice while I did some studying when the light became darker and the thunder and lightening began. I grabbed my stuff, but still managed to get completely drenched. It was a blast!! The water came down in torrents -- the wind was whipping up waves in the gutters and sheets of the warm water were falling off the rooftops and... I was out in it. I came home soggy -- my other clothes were still drying on their make-shift line in my room, but it wasn't cold. Anyway, because it was raining, it was vitually impossible to get a taxi to the disco joint as everyone else had the same idea, or a similar one. So, we walked under umbrella's to the Daxue (University) to the local dance there. It was a dance where they were doing Waltz, rumba, quick-step, cha cha and all that. -- I guess that's really popular here.
Luckily, I'd had three years of ballroom dance at BYU -- my blonde hair does draw attention. I can hardly remember the last time I had that much attention at a dance. -- You might think I was flattered, but to be honest, it began to get annoying mighty quick. It's one thing to be different and observed, it's quite another to be different and "handled."--The dance conversation was the same in Chinese -- "where are you from" etc.. It was good that I knew the word for "Seattle Super Sonics" in Chinese. Believe me, it came in useful!! A lot of them mentioned Boeing, Microsoft, and the fact that Washington State has a Chinese-American Govenor as well. The Educated Chinese are informed. I was grateful for my American guy friends who came often to my side whenever I needed to be "rescued." It worked like a charm.
I have also been amazed at what "free-thinking" people the Chinese are that I have met. I guess I expected that this would not be the case in a Communist community. But they seem to be free to say and think what they want when they want -- they just don't act on it as readily. My Chinese Professor often talks to us about conditions in China and his views on them. (e.g. that no family housing was built in China from 1939 to about 1979 -- or the one child per-household law) etc. etc.. He is convinced that China is moving more and more towards a capitalist society. It is hard to say on the one hand, but on the other it is everywhere you look. I had heard before I came that China was a place of dichotomy -- this is most certainly true. There are the educated Chinese who seem to see the future of China and it's change, and then the rest (majority) who's concern is food and housing for the day.
Last nite I ordered what I thought was fish soup. I'd had it before -- water with a whole, big fish floating in it. But this time, it turned out to be turtle soup! (Water with a turtle floating in it)I guess the characters for fish and turtle are very similar. When they brought out the soup I thought, "My, that's a bloated fish." But, it didn't take me long to see it for what it was. It was tasty!!
I'm getting better at slurping up food, shoveling rice into my mouth and spitting my chicken bones directly onto the restaurant table (not even into a spoon first!). Some rules of American ettiquette are hard to break. But, I'm doing better.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Monday, 04 May 1998 3:39 AM
Subject: Hao Ba!
TITANIC is a BIG deal here -- posters and postcards everywhere of the movie (all in English), but hardly any to be found of the city. During the movie, people clap and cheer at odd junctions -- they smoke and take flash-pictures of the screen (well, of the movie stars, I presume). Very different. Some of the guys in my group have lots of fun with the groups of teenage girls we meet on the street. They ask them if they've ever seen Titanic and then tell them that they are the very one and only What's-his-name from the movie. They all cover their mouths and gasp and giggle. I'm no good at bluffing for too long (poor love-struck girls!) so I usually end up telling them that the guys are just joking. :) It's a good "ice-breaker." he-he.
Today I managed to find my way to the previously non-existent Nanjing University Music Department. Unfortunately, it was closed for some reason. I'll keep knocking. That harp has GOT to be somewhere in this city!!
Nite markets are romantic. The weather is "hen liang kuai" -- very pleasant and the goods are diverse. The people are in a jovial, casual mood and it makes for good conversation practice.
Tonite we have two birthdays to celebrate. We've reserved the birthday room at the local McDonald's to celebrate. :) I guess the McDonald's people provide a cake with candles, hats, and party surprises--everything a bunch of students could wish for! We'll see how it goes. --Re nao Re nao!
This weekend we're taking a trip to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain). It's about an 8 hour train ride away from Nanjing. We'll probably get a sleeper train and leave Thursday nite--catch a bus to Huang Shan and hike the many kilometers up to the top. I guess we'll camp at the top in some bamboo grove wrapped in a sleeper and wait for the sunrise. The long 7 kilometer hike (all stairs) down should turn my legs to a nice jelly.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 06 May 1998 2:07 AM
Subject: Noodles n' Rice
The ceiling fan was clacking over my head when I opened my eyes. The cross-breezes from the open window carried the sounds that mixed with the whip, whip, clack of the fan. Tai Chi again this morning -- we added "cloud hands" to the "sparrow's tail" today. It began to rain just as I lunged into the Sparrow's tail form. I was tired.
Last nite we rode our commi-bikes down to Fu zi miao to a nite market. The pagodas along the river were edged with white lights and red lanterns -- very romantic in the warm evening. Most of the vendors were selling the same types of things: bright, rubber sandals, wooden toys, jade thing-a-ma-jigs, food, lingerie, ties and various and asundried clothes stuffs. Every time I stop to look I gather a crowd... I'm beginning to feel like I'm the main atraction in a zoo. Everyone wants to be your friend.... why? "Guanxi" (connections), I suppose. Everyone wants an American friend -- someone to practice their English with. I'm enjoying the friendships I've made here so far, but sometimes, I just want to merge into the populous and be.
Yesterday afternoon I rode by myself to the Nanjing "Art Institute" in further search of my harp. I enjoy riding along the streets alone. It gives me a measure of freedom. On the way I see piles of bricks and, in their midst, buildings surrounded in bamboo scaffolding going up. Skyrises next to shanty-town shacks with people sitting on a beat-up couch (their "living room") in the middle of the brick heap pass me on my right... while a brand new Luxus and a jeep Cherokee pass me on my left. The street sweepers sweep with their stick brooms in their patched pants and mis-matched shirt and the man on my right rides by in his tailored suit. Trees arching overhead.
I found the art institute and a young man playing his guitar on the curb. I parked my bike and walked slowly by. He looked up, "Can I help you?" His English was very good. He wasn't your "normal" Chinese guy. He was wearing American-style, skater-type clothes and his hair was long. I flopped myself on the curb next to him--hot and dusty from my ride--"yeah, I'm looking for a harp."
I showed him the characters for harp in Chinese "Shu(4) Qin(2)" and he took me to the headmaster of the music department. An incredibly kind woman, the headmaster made a few calls and....yes, I'm having my first harp lesson in China tomorrow at 4PM in room 108!! Whoo-hooo! I asked how much it would cost and she was shocked. This isn't America, she said in Chinese. It won't cost you anything. You talk with the teacher and she'll talk with you and you will exchange culture. Wow. That never happens.
I went with the guitar guy to his workshop -- he's a sculptor--to see his art. Guanxi are very helpful in China.
I'm going now to buy a train ticket to Yellow Mountain; to meet another Chinese Friend (the International business doctorial candidate); and then to meet another family this evening.
I'll be glad to be back under the whip, whip, clack tonite -- another day in China.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Thursday, 07 May 1998 1:34 AM
Subject: Persistent Patience
It took 3.5 hours to purchase our train tickets yesterday to Huang Shan. I'm still not sure exactly why it took that long. My Chinese friend, Chen(2) Tian(1) yu(3) (we've named her Karen) was even with us to help. At first they told us there were no tickets, but then they told us that there were hard sleepers left -- and then no hard sleepers -- then no tickets except standing only tickets (it's an 8 hour ride). The man then told us he'd do what he could -- to leave a deposit and come back in an hour. So, I went with Karen to her dorm to wait.
Since visiting the Chinese students' dorms, I'm convinced I live in the Hilton. The dorm I live in was built in 1991. I was shocked when I heard that. The elevators often get stuck; the water is dirty.... I could go on, but I'd feel ungrateful. Karen's room was half the size mine is and she shares it with four other people. There are three of us in our room. They have hot water for only a set amount of time per day if they're lucky -- I guess we are a novelty to have hot water 24 hours a day. In fact, I just discovered yesterday that if I don't make my bed, the maid who brings us the boiled water every day (for drinking and brushing teeth) will also make my bed for me. I am spoiled!
Life is relative.
Karen spread newspapers on her small desk and opened a variety of rice "cookies" for us to try and little fruit jellos that we were to slurp out of their containers making lots of slurping-jello noise. When we walk with her she takes my hand and I rehearse over and over in my mind that that is normal and it should not make me uncomfortable. Perhaps someday it won't, but for now, it does. She, obviously -- along with all the other girls walking hand-in-hand--, thinks nothing of it.
We went back to the ticket station and were told that the ticket agent had not yet returned from the ticket station. (he went there on bike to see about our tickets) We waited around and finally left with 10 hard-sleeper tickets and 4 standing only tickets. We leave tonite (Thursday) at 7 and will return late Saturday nite. I'm sure I'll have lots to tell you when I return.
Class is becoming more challenging. I have small papers to write -- and all the words on my vocabulary lists look the same, but mean something different (not really, but sometimes I'm sure it's true).
I just couldn't down the duck blood I was served for dinner the other nite -- and the rice balls that looked like moth balls floating in some sort of rose-hip soup were also a challenge. They tasted very much like an old-lady's perfume.
The other gizzards, intestines and various internal parts are not as difficult as long as I don't know that's what they are until after I eat them. Generally, though, when I do the ordering I get pretty standard chicken, beef, pork or fish dishes that are absolutely divine along with a variety of vegetables, rice or noodles.
A few friends wrote to me about the nature of "guanxi" and feeling different in China in response to my last letter. Yes, I rather expect I'll have to "compensate" my harp teacher in some way or the other sooner or later. That's just how things work here. Life and items aren't ever really free -- they're traded. It is challenging for me to not always be seconded guessing someone's intent. Nothing seems what it is -- but sometimes, it is. I am learning to trust my feelings more and more. --To be who I am for what I am and, especially, where I am and nothing more or less.
I'm off to culture class now, then harp and then I'll catch a taxi to the train station after that.
Until I return from the Mountains,
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Sunday, 10 May 1998 8:19 AM
Subject: A long account--read at your own risk
Squatty potties take on a whole new dimension when you've just hiked up somewhere around 10,000 stairs and back down again. But, I'll tell you about that in a minute.
My harp lesson was fabulous and a little intimidating. I walked into the crumbling, gray building and met my teacher --a small women dressed to the nines. She led me to a small cubicle wherein lay the golden harp -- a concert grand, gold-leafed beauty. I think she was a bit disappointed to find that I am not by any means a concert harpist, but, rather, a beginner-intermediate. Still, she seemed very pleased to work with me and teach me her method of playing -- down to how I hold my hand and use my fingers. It was a day 1 lesson all over again.
She studied with a very famous harpist in Shanghai and has been playing for 25 years (in contrast to my 2.5). I gave her some jazz-harp music as a gift and am looking forward to next week's lesson.
Back on my red-commi bike I pedaled back to the Xiyuan (dorm where I live) to throw my stuff in my day-pack, wash my dusty face and hail a taxi to the train station.
We waited at the station for an hour and a half in a special room reserved for foreigners and parents with small children after having sat outside for a while warding off the constant stream of beggars -- giving the occasional beggar-child a cracker or banana. Many of the adult beggars would simply throw the food offered them on the ground with disgust. They only wanted money. The children are usually grateful for the food. Personally, I don't want to set any kind of precedent that all foreigners are a sure bet for money. That's a tradition that just doesn't need to be set --in my opinion.
We boared the train at around 7:30 Thursday evening and walked down the pea-green, shoulder-wide hall through the cigarette smoke to our hard-sleeper bunks. I was on the top --#14 E. The windows three beds below me only opened half-way and the smoke,heat, and chatter of a hundred Chinese voices had a way of drifting up to the foot and a half space between me and the pea-green ceiling. I was grateful when the train lurched with a clank and started off, and the breeze from the window below began to clear and cool the compartment. The lights went out around 10 and the chatter stopped as people tried to make themselves comfortable on their boards.
The train sped along with an "I-CAN'T-believe-how-FAR-I've come" chant. Every once in a while the whistle would glare into the nite as another train whooshed by and then suddenly we'd screetch to a halt as the metal would grind against metal and I'd nearly be catapulted from my 2-foot wide bunk 8 feet up on the wall. Mostly you heard wind, mixed with the sound of crickets and frogs and the trains rythmic hum.
Sometime between 1 and 2 AM I had drifted off to a vague sleep when I heard a blood-curdling scream and a crashing sound below me. I sat up with a start hitting my head on the ceiling and then nearly butting heads with my BYU friend on the bunk opposite mine as we both craned our heads over the side to look down. --Evidently, the train had been stopped at a station, the window was open and some guy had decided to try and reach in the window from out side the train on the platform and grab Ning's (one of my classmate's) bag from under her head. He hit her in the mouth in this attempt and she whacked him back with violence. He screamed and fell down into the tracks, but I don't think he was hurt more than he deserved. We rolled back over, inhaled more cigarette smoke in the darkness, and went back to semi-sleep. All in a day's work.
We got into Huang Shan station at 4 AM where we sat on the steps until they opened at 8 so we could buy our return-trip tickets. I shared a ear-phones with Jon and we listed to Wheezer and Barry Manalow while munching on oranges and rolls and were fanned by an obnoxious beggar man who wanted money for his "service" in the cool morning. Jon borrowed my fan and fanned him back and asked him for money. The usual observing crowd drew pleasure from this performance and even the old Grandpa seemed amused.
We got our tickets, bartered for two extra-mini-vans to take us up to the park entrance and we were off in the morning light through the country-side. Children were on their way to school, slaughtered pigs were draped over the backs of bikes on their way to market, farmers up to their knees in mud and water behind their water buffalos in rice and sugar-cane fields... lush vegatation that smelled like the rain forest-- cabbages and other produce growing even along the edges of the road...not one square inch was wasted. It was good to be out in the green world--the mist brushing the trees and bamboo groves growing on the mountainous slopes.
I soon fell asleep on Tarren's shoulder and he took pictures of what I missed.
The village at the bottom of Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan) was buzzing with vulturous vendors as we arrived. We walked with a cloud of them envading our personal space all the way to the entrance gate. "Bu yao, bu yong" (I don't need it. No use for it.) I told them while swatting another one's hand off my arm. I feel bad that I am so grumpy at their effort to work and survive.
All the way to the mountain I was diliberating about whether I'd take the 8 minute tram to the top or hike the darn thing. In the end, I decided that pain was most of the experience and that the view would be the other. I hoofed it -- man man zou ba. (very slowly.) This was a good decision. Although there is this 8 minute tram -- it is only for the tourists. As you wind your way up the stone steps through the valleys, along cliffs, through rock caverns carved by the hundred waterfalls along the way, you walked with men who were carrying up loads on their shoulders weighing 100s of pounds. They carried these loads by using a long bamboo pole across their shoulders and then the load balanced on either end in a scale-like fashion. They held it there with their left hand while using another bamboo pole to steady it using their right hand. Their calves were bulging as were their veins -- some of those men weren't much bigger than myself. I saw them carrying loads of cabbages and live toads for the restaurants up at the top as well as televisions for the hotels and heavy cement-filled bags, hoses, steel shafts and other heavy building materials. I asked one man how much he made a day to carry those up the mountain. 40 Kuai, was the answer. -- That's about 5 dollars, I suppose.
I climbed very slowly with my little pack up the winding and sometimes slippery steps -- it took me 5 hours to reach on of the destination locations. I paced myself according to one of the burdened men carrying a load of cabbages up the sometimes nearly vertical steps -- for which I had to use my hands to crawl while he gasped for air and balanced his cabbages. Sweat dripped down both our faces and we were grateful for the next flat spot.
Becky and I made it up the mountain around 2 in the afternoon on virtually no sleep and very little rations of food. We did have water. We met the rest of the group, sat and absorbed the mountain beauty and bonzi-like trees floating in the clouds and finally crashed for 50 Kuai on springy cots complete with feather-comforters in the Karakoe bar next to some Chinese people playing cards for the nite around 8:30.
We started down the mountain at 4:30 the next morning. Tarren was a gentleman and carried my pack -- nevertheless, my legs were and are jello. We got back to the village at the base around 9 in the morning and ate at a local restaurant -- exhausted I slept during the entire bumpy bus ride back to the train station. We had until 7 PM to wait so I read a book that my friends in Hong Kong gave me to read "Lords of the Rim" (fascinating book I highly recommend) as a drunk on the bench next to me urinated all over the station floor. --I moved to a different bench and later went to find a hair salon that washed and massaged my grimy head for 45 minutes -- only cost me 15 Kuai.
The train ride back we didn't have sleepers, but rather hard seats-- I'd eaten some pretty spicy food that didn't agree with me and wasn't feeling the best, but home at last I slept after a long hot shower and got up around 1 this afternoon. It's raining now and I'm going to McDonald's for dinner.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 13 May 1998 1:57 AM
Subject: Weather or Knot
How can so many words sound the same and mean something completely different?!
I don't know if it's the rain that's turned Nanjing's furnace into a cold bed of coals and has had me wearing the same sweater (my only sweater--and I'm still freezing)for the last four days that's set off this sudden bought of meloncholy, or if it's just the daily grind of trying to communicate and being frustrated about my personal "jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none" personality. Nevertheless, it's here -- and it's normal. Some things you experience in every culture.
Think I'll go have "pizza" for lunch and see if that cures me. :)
Last nite Karen invited us to a friend's house (The Dean of Architecture at HoHoi University) to learn some Chinese cooking. First we went to the out-door market to buy our grubs: potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, live shrimp (I helped fish them out with my hands -- they squirmed and jumped like jumping beans), tofu, seaweed, green pepper -- etc. etc.. The Dean's house is big because he has his own kitchen and a separate room for sleeping complete with a couch and color TV, as well as another room to eat in and his own bathroom. The kitchen was small with a barely enough room for us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, but I learned the proper way to cut up Chinese vegetables and make mopo dofu and other yummy substances.
We toasted our Sprite and Fanta a few times to the health of all who were there and dove in to the communial bowls with our chopsticks. I still have difficulty manuvering the shrimp with my chopsticks -- getting it into my mouth just right so that I can pop the head off with my teeth and spit it out with a blast of air on the table. Then, I must successfully shell the rest of the shrimp with my teeth while holding the thing in my chopsticks and blowing the legs and shell out in like fashion without disgarding too much of the precious meat. Mafan...mafan.
He gave us some little brooches to wear in memory of the event and commemoritive of his University's 80th Anniversary. His two children are gone from home already -- one at the university in Beijing and another in the military. I never did understand where his wife was. I was impressed with his kind face -- he had a soft look to him --worn with life's trials and smiling through it all... "a man of information."
Just now there are about 50 school children (probably about 7-9 years old) outside my window dressed in their uniforms of red and white--their black hair under brightly colored umbrellas. They are laughing in the rain and re-lighting China's furnace. Change is tangible here -- and much that looks the same is different.
Riding the ups and downs of China,
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Friday, 15 May 1998 1:53 AM
Subject: Sudden Impulse
I'm leaving on the next train for Shanghai -- the four o'clock. I'll be back Sunday nite. -- Four of the guys left on the noon train and Danielle and I are going to catch up with them this afternoon.
This morning we visted the Imperial examination rooms (testing center) where the tests were given once every three years for three consecutive days. The 20,000 scholars came from all over the country to take the tests -- writing everything they knew -- never leaving their cubical for the three day process. Many committed suicide.
We also visted the main gate of the 600 year-old city wall complete with bonzai gardens and Chinese writing still visible. This writing was stamped in the individual bricks to identify the province from which the brick came should it need to be replaced.
I'm sore from Tai Chi this morning and enlivened by my visit to the primary school I visited yesterday where we danced and played with the 5 and 6 year-olds.
It's still cold and rainy -- I think my sweater and I have bonded.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Friday, 15 May 1998 9:35 PM
Subject: Shanghai Connection
Shanghai has always been a novel place of mystery to me. --A locale full of intrigue and mafia rings interlaced with secret international plots formed in sleezy back allies with "vacancy" flashing in Chinese Neon-- glitzy high rise buildings and wads of money next to the daily grind and floating lines of laundry out the windows.
I wish I had more than a day and a half to experience it, but I'll take what I can get.
Danielle and I bought our hard-seat tickets for 27 kuai (just for the record, the guys were charged 70 something...he-he). We sat across from three Chinese women who were cracking sunflower seeds with their teeth -- some of the shells stuck to their lips as they smiled their semi-toothless smiles at us. They were from Shanghai, we found out, and very fun to chat with.
They wore the typical, practical Chinese garb of whatever you owned over the top of whatever else you owned, regardless of the color or design. -- I like the fact that you are allowed to be so human here without pretense--in these circles anyway.
We thought it was supposed to be a three-hour train ride, but I guess we weren't on the express. So, four and a half hours later....
The train station is full of trains and people; it's connected by a subway. -- It felt like I'd just stepped into Manhattan... the multi-colored garb turned into high heels and designer suits. I felt a culture shock and wished I'd brought a nice pair of whatever else to wear. --But that passed as I began to worry more about finding our way to our nite's locale -- it being already 10 PM.
Asking questions and dropping Kuai into the "fatso" phones (they're chubby looking)we got a taxi and sped down the super highway through the hundred highrises to our destination. Friends of friends are putting us up for the nite and it is on their computer that I'm writing this. -- He works for Ford and they're stationed here in Shanghai for three years. -- I went from my hard-board bed in Nanjing to a four-poster king-size complete with down comforter and pillows, jacuzzi tub and large-screen tv.
The guys are at another friend's house. Some of them went to a disco last nite -- I was too dead to dance.
So, today we're hitting the city and tomorrow we'll go to the LDS church branch that meets close by (although the Chinese aren't allowed to attend -- gov't regulations)and then catch an evening train home.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Tuesday, 19 May 1998 1:21 AM
It was late when the six of us got into Nanjing Sunday nite. The taxi drivers did their usual mob job of trying to get us in their little, red car.
Shanghai was beautiful. We went to some gardens in town and I fed the goldfish some bread -- they sucked it right out of my fingers!! I've never hand-fed a fish before. The "little friends" (children) were laughing with equal delight beside me.
We went shopping and had a great time playing show-and-tell on the way back home Saturday evening as we had split up to go our various shopping ways. --Chinese mafia rings trying to sell us vintage china ware and smiling shopkeepers demonstrating their arts and crafts--convincing us of their worth. Haggling and bartering, buying and eating. -- I loved shopping in Shanghai.
Our driver (yes, the family we were staying with has a few personal drivers -- it's common here) picked us up at the appointed time in his ford mini-van and escorted us back to the house for dinner where the maid had pressed all my clothes.
We ate and lounged and the driver came back for us at 8 to take us back to the city to walk "the Bund." Perhaps you've heard of this famous strip? It's a grand walk along a waterway lined with European buildings and vendors. The "Shanghai Space-Needle" is lit up like something out of a science fiction movie in blue, purple, and green.
The weather was soft and perfect. We sauntered along, bought ice cream and spoke with the usual swarm of natives wanting to chat with the Weiguo ren (foreigners). We teased them and each other and at times took advantage of the opportunity to act like the "obnoxious tourist" instead of the "savvy traveler" just for the laugh. Generally, we just had a grand old time.
Back at the ranch, we watched a movie on the big screen tv and turned into the downy soft bed around 2 AM.
Church was at 10 the next morning and the driver was there promptly at 9:15 to take us.
The meeting was held in a member's apartment (there are about 70 members), but they are working with local gov't officials to try and get a meeting house. I was happy to see Chris and Susan from Seattle and a man from Switzerland and his family who were in the last area I served in while on my mission there in St. Gallen. He and I schwetz'ed a little Swiss German and had fun catching up on the goings on in his home town. The world is small.
The Wangs invited us to lunch at their home after church. (spaghetti! complete with a leafy green salad!!!! and FORKS!) Root beer, American candies and apples to take on the train were also packed for us.
We got on the train -- a double decker thing with that blasted Titanic theme song that has become the national anthem of China, I'm sure, playing over the loud speaker every ten minutes.
I sipped my root beer and felt pleasantly spoiled -- and we rolled into Nanjing.
Interestingly, as we entered the dorms and I lay down on my hard bed, I was more grateful for it than I was before I left. --Yes, I soaked up and savored every spoiled-rotten moment of Shanghai, but "there's no place like home" and that's what this has become. Also, in Shanghai we were sheltered and distanced from the locals more -- I like it here where I am more amongst the people and living with them instead of above them. I think I'm learning more this way. In anycase, it's snapped me out of my meloncholy, mid-trip slump and has me anxious to be out chatting Chinese again and eating rice and noodles.
This morning I got up early and walked over to the play field to study. Large groups of students were practicing tai chi in white,loose fitting suits as others danced with fans to the music being broadcast over loud speakers. Children were everywhere on their way to school (they generally start class about 7 AM and end around 6 PM) and I was back sitting among them with my Chinese books and helping some Chinese students with their German homework.
What is comfort?
I'm off to culture class,
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Thursday, 21 May 1998 9:07 AM
Subject: Subsequent thoughts
Tomorrow I will be half-way through my journey in China. Time does softly, swiftly fly.
One of my teachers was hit by a bike last Saturday and subsequently broke her hip. She is bed-ridden for a month and we now have a new teacher. I miss the old, experienced, predictable teacher. The new one is young and inexperienced. She laughs a lot as an indication of her nervousness and sometimes jumps up and down with excitement.... She also has a very strong Nanjing accent as opposed to my last teacher's Beijing dialect. Therefore, she is difficult for me to understand. Nevertheless, we are beginning to get re-settled in the new situation.(We still have our other good teacher for our other class though)
One of the directors of the foreign student department purchased tickets to the Beijing Opera (in Nanjing) -- So, I'm going to the opera tomorrow nite. I hear it's boring to the un-trained ear, but that walking around, talking and snoozing is appropriate with intermitent (sp?) attentiveness. -- I'll let you know. Personally, I've always liked the opera.
--Just returned home from my harp lesson where my instructor gave me three new, traditional harp pieces. I'm so thrilled!! One is a piece written for the viola and harp by a famous, blind musician here in China called, "Two Wells Reflect the Moon." Another is a Tibetian piece called "Washing Clothes," and tells of the people doing their part for the People's Liberation Army as they wash the soldiers' uniforms. The third is about a river.
After my lesson, I went with my friend (I've named him 'David'), who interprets for me at my lessons, to dinner in the student cafeteria and he talked to me about his feelings for his country. --His love for his country and his desire to study abroad and form his own life. I just listened to him and tried not to flavor his opinion with mine. --I am learning so much from these people....
The weather has perfected itself the last few days. My sweater and I have parted and I walk about freely in short-sleeves. The air is soft with humidity -- but not yet too muggy. The whir of the fan is back and my hanging clothes dry in a day rather than three.
I found a European restaurant to balance out my diet. --It is celestial. The food is as good as any four-star, Seattle bistro, but the ambiance is diverse. To my left were Germans, to my right French was heard. Italian and English were also spoken. The world is becoming so international -- I wish more people could see that. I wish I could show them how important it is to learn a language and try to understand others. They are trying to reach out to us and learn our ways. Other countries are so far ahead of the US in this area. They are used to having to communicate with others and learn their language. -- Not like the US where we expect others to understand us and never have to leave our language if we don't want to. --But this is my opinion.... I can't tell you how often -- every day even-- I walk down the street and someone comes up to me to talk to me. First they might speak to me in Chinese...then they might ask, "Anglais? Francais? Deutsch? Aleman? Spanisch?" --I pick the language I feel most like speaking depending on their native homeland and then we get along just fine.
I met a woman from Israel today and another from man from Nigeria. Granted, I'm living in the "Foreign Student" dorms, but most of these people I meet aren't students here or living in my dorm. They are traveling through or on business here. --China is changing. Did you know that there is a bank in Bellevue (near Seattle) that is completely owned and operated by Chinese? -- Doesn't surprise me. I found that out from a guy I met here who happens to live about four blocks from me in Seattle and who is going to be working at the bank next summer.
I'm going to a Buddhist temple tomorrow about 30 kilometers outside of Nanjing--it's perched on a mountain, so...I'll be hiking. I was thinking of going to Su Zhou on Saturday to buy some silk and look at gardens, but I think I'm going to wait until next weekend and go instead to a concert presenting traditional, Chinese instruments this weekend.
I've also found a brilliant taylor....so I think I'll go shopping for material.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Saturday, 23 May 1998 7:06 AM
Subject: The Finer Taste
I miss this place already.
Yesterday afternoon, before the opera, a famous folk singer came to teach us a Chinese song which we are going to be singing at some large performance next weekend. I guess all the students at Nanjing University are invited and all the foreign students are too. There will be several groups performing numbers and we are to perform this Chinese song and another American song. --They even gave us T-Shirts! Hmmm...we'll see how it goes. Luckily, our group can carry a tune pretty well. But, if that wasn't enough culture for the day....
There was a bat flying around the opera house during the Ming Dynasty performance that nite. There was a sign overhead that read something about "In honor of Chairman Mao's visit to this theater in 1956," and there were Chinese characters (side-titles?) being flashed on the wall to the right by an overhead projector instead of the supra- or sub-titles we usually have at the opera.
The costumes were absolutely magnificant and the acrobatics were phenomenal to spellbinding--complete with sword fights and dagger dances. Chinese opera also uses astounding vocal control and sounds a bit nasal and sliding. The string and block instruments complimented the singers' voices perfectly. I wrote a paper for my culture class during the drier parts and enjoyed myself most completely.
People did get up and mull around when they wanted to and clapping occurred during the parts they liked rather than waiting for the performance to end. Camera flashes were frequent as the bat flittered around the soprano's notes in a confused state until the thin lady sang and it was all over.
The nite was perfect -- not hot, not cold. One of the guy's bike had a flat, so I let him pedal mine with me on the back. There's nothing quite like riding through the nite on a bike in the warm air. Lots of Chinese men dressed up and going places on their bikes with girls on the back riding side-saddle in skirts and blouses. It's the only way to travel (if you're the girl)! ;)
We went dancing over at the hall at NanDa (Nanjing Daxue = Nanjing University) 'til 1 or so and then brought a bunch of Chinese students back to play a few rounds of UNO. --Yes, we Mormons are a little strange in their eyes...don't drink, don't smoke, don't drink the tea and still manage to have a good time. They're getting used to it.
Did I tell you about the Dungee guy at the door? His job is to check in and out all Chinese students who come to visit the foreigners. Anyway, he's there around the clock watching our comings and goings and who associates with whom.
I woke up early this morning and ran out the door with Jon and three Chinese friends who wanted to take us sight-seeing. We went by bus to the bridge that crosses the Yangtze River (they're HUGE--both the bridge and the river -- bridge built in '64) and then across the river to a recreational area.
Not knowing we were going to go play in the park, I was wearing a denim dress because I'd given my other three pieces of clothing to the laundry lady. Anyway, it made the day more creative to be in a dress riding horses and bamboo-poling my way across the lake on wooden rafts and having water wars. I just tied up my dress around my knees, fasted down my new straw hat, and away we went. Actually, I thought it added greatly to the ambiance.
The girl that was with us is a also a folk singer at the art institute where I have my harp lesson so she taught me some more folk songs as we pushed our way out onto the lake and then sat floating among the acacia trees and gold fish. Life is lazy.
After lunch -- which consisted of the reminiscent fish, a few hot n' spicy dishes and tomatoe/egg soup with the standard rice and boiled water -- we went to a concert at the art institute. The concert was a recital of sorts -- traditional Chinese music and some Russian music played on common instruments such as the bassoon, violin, piano, flute, trumpet etc.. The artist were -- well, undiscovered genius comes to mind. I was awe struck at the talent.
I have been so completely impressed with the cultural richness of this country. There seems to be a much greater emphasis on the fine arts here -- and, in talking with the students, cultural refinement appears to be a greater source of attraction for a female to a male than is physical appearance or even financial/social position. If he can do calligraphy, paint, dance, read, sing, play an instrument and is associated with these things -- he must have some social standing and is intelligent enough to get a good job and be a refined and sensitive man. hmmm.... For the men, cultural refinement is important, but it is also important that the female be shorter than he is.
Ugh, there's that darned Titanic song AGAIN. -- It must be time to log off! Besides, my head is tired from the Chinese today. --I think I spoke about 3 sentences of English all day. WHOO -HOO!! --I'm not saying my Chinese was by any means perfect, but... I'm comunicating!!
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Saturday, 23 May 1998 7:23 AM
I forgot to tell you about the MONKS!!
Friday, before the folk singing and the opera, we took a little field trip out to that Buddhist Monastary (sp?). On the way, we stopped at a wheat field and wandered out into the middle of it. There, in the middle of the field were two, large stone lions and a tortise with a tall steele on its back. These figures were from the Tang dynasty (another from the Ming) and were part of the old walk -way leading to an important general and another prince's tomb sites. There they were right in the middle of the wheat. If you turned around and looked a ways off you could see two other large, stone objects -- nuclear reactors.
After this stop we continued on to the Buddhist monastary where we saw their temple and listened to their singing and chanting near the water lilly pond. The lillies were in full pink and white bloom. I sat under an acacia tree on a little stool and talked with a monk for about a half-hour. He's 21 and had left home about four years ago. He's studing there for two years and then plans to go to Beijing to continue his religious studies. He hears there's a monastery in Los Angeles? They all wear the same baggy clothes to show commonality and brotherhood. They don't eat meat out of their "spiritual relationship" with the animals. (It took me a while to look that one up in my dictionary as he was explaining it to me.)
I thought a great deal, half-squatting, half-sitting under the acacia tree near the water lillies -- monks chanting and ringing their giant bells -- how different life was here from mine in Seattle. But, for that moment, this was how my life was.
I think about the old people I saw at the opera who were watching and listening with admiration ... people who had lived through the "cultural" revolution and had all these experiences stripped from their lives for a season. --Still, they had the water lillies.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 27 May 1998 4:30 AM
Subject: Close Shave
It was Monday and I needed a haircut.
Sunday I'd spent cooped in the dorm after church listening to the rain and watching various laundry items fly by my window in the wind as I played yet another round of gin rummy. I lost.
By Monday it was balmy again and I was ready to speed anywhere on my now rusty, red, stolen commi-bike, but my need was to get my toufa (hair) cut. So I set out.
A Chinese couple wanting to improve their English offered to help me find what I was looking for and joined me on my search. They told me that I could get a cheap haircut at this difang (place) and that difang, but I was a bit nervous about the looks of some of those shops. I also gave them a quick and dirty explaination on the difference between "cheap" and "inexpensive" in English. They seemed appreciative and took me to a posh Chinese salon.
If I had more hair, I'd go again. My hair is just a little bit shorter than I would have liked it, but the cut is very good -- the massage was even better. They spent about a half-hour massaging my back, arms, hands, head and face before they ever gave me the cut. Maybe I'll just go back for the massage? ....Anyway, I went bowling afterwards and I'm convinced that the reason I didn't do very well is because my muscles were just too relaxed. He-he. (Bowling in China? -- Yup. Just like home.)
That nite the tailor came to my room after a fashion (no pun intended) and measured me with a flash of his tape -- never writing a thing down until he was finished. He drew a perfect picture of what I described to him and told me he'd have it back to me in four days for 100 Kuai: a skirt, matching shirt/jacket, and a blouse. Would that do? I handed him the material I'd bought earlier in the week and wait with anticipation. If it turns out....well, I'm afraid I could become an addict....
Tuesday. The weather intensified and it was getting hot. Jon, Dave and I set out to visit an artist acquaintence after class. From the front, the place didn't look like much -- just another Kiosk with bottled water and trinkets for sale. But, --Never judge a Kiosk by it's Front -- Just like everything else I've found in China. You have to look deeper, ask more and you are gradually allowed into the world behind the fronts.
We parked our bikes in front of the Kiosk, there on the sidewalk, and were invited to enter a skinny little door. The skinny, little door opened up to a large, family compound with a courtyard in the center. In the courtyard were about four, bamboo cages with colorful finches singing in them, and other various and asundried household items, wash basins and chairs. We went into a room off to the side.
Within the room I met the artist surrounded by his works. Calligraphy and watercolors of plum blossoms, water lillies, birds and more calligraphy. To the side of the room was a gu...shenme shenme (I can't remember the name of the instrument--drat.) Anyway, it's a traditional, Chinese instrument --long, stringed like a harp only it lies horizontally.
I told the Xiansheng (gentleman) that I played the harp. With a look of delight he sat down and began to play the most ancient tones about a water lilly unfolding in the spring. His inch-long nails plucking the notes with aged expertise while his left hand vibrated the tones and changed their pitch. The finches chirped their appreciation outside the cool, blue room and I knew I was sitting at a master's feet. I was right. I was informed by his wife that in playing this instrument, he is rated "number two in China." ...So much more to a kiosk....
I asked him about his paintings. He doesn't sell his work, but he will paint one for me if I'd like -- I am paying him 130 Kuai for a plum blossom water color. He and I commiserated together about the tradgedy of my short time left here in China. --It would have been a treasure to have sat with a master and learned the art of that beautiful instrument. --Another time.
Off again on the bikes we sped along the noisy, vendor-lined streets to a distant location. Here, there is a Chinese antique bazaar: coins, stamps, books, pots, modern electronic toys and gizmos, false teeth (you can even sit right there in their wooden dentist's chair under the striped canopy and have the tooth you picked put in for you!), tons of Chairman Mao paraphanilia and other odds and ends. I walked along the dusty road and bickered about this and that, but only ended up with a pair of much-needed sunglasses. I'd wandered off quite a ways when I heard Jon calling for me. --A man he met wanted to take us to see some "gudai" (ancient) artifacts he had. Would we please come with him? ....
Always ready for an adventure, we readily agreed. You might think this ignorant, but adventure only comes with a bit of risk when combined with caution. We came to a little Kiosk.... yup, more behind it than you thought. Through a skinny door and -- foop! Another huge complex of apartments winding their way around in a maze of cement and dimly lighted walk ways. Passed some men playing cards in the hall and inhaled some more cigarette smoke from their abundant supply. Back in the far reaches of the compound, we came to a room about 6 feet by 6 feet square. "Please, sit down." He motioned to the cot along one wall. We sat as he took the only chair on the other side of the room -- and we sat knee to knee.
To shorten the story, he began pulling out boxes from under our feet and under the table along the remaining wall--showing us a wide variety of pots, dishes and vases from what he claimed were various dynasties. Hmmmm... The whole experience was really quite amusing. I felt like an art smuggler in some 1930's war-film. Yeah, we barted around a bit. I doubt any of the stuff is really real, but I bought a bowl in commemoration of the event after sufficient haggling. Anyway, it makes a great story. --I've heard "they" won't let stuff like that out of the country anyway -- so, maybe the story is all I'll have in the end -- and even that is worth it. he-he.
We walked out into the now darkening light -- peddled to a restaurant and dug in with our chopsticks -- slurping away with satisfaction.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Thursday, 28 May 1998 12:45 AM
Thanks for your note, Michael.
I, too, think that there's a chance that the stuff is actually real, but I wouldn't post that in a public forum like my last letter. He claims that many wealthy families buried their treasures during the Revolution to keep them from being destroyed. Now, people like him go dig them up and sell them to antique dealers. They look old -- and were covered somewhat in that clay-like soil...but anyone could make something look like that. He actually had one piece he claimed was from the Song dynasty that was absolutely beautiful. It didn't have much color to it -- just a light greenish tone on the old thing. It was a flower-pot-like thing with a matching pitcher and lid. The pitcher was used to hold beer and they put hot water in the pot around the pitcher to keep the beer warm. The lid had a little dog on the top. I'm quite convinced it was real, but also very fragile with all the little pieces. If anything happened to it on my two week travel trip etc. I would never forgive myself. --Better it stay in China.
So, I bought the fruit-bowl-sized dish that displays the different foliages of China on it (supposedly Ming) and a little tea cup from the Qing with its saucer and lid for my mom. We'll see if I get it out. All of his stuff was really quite amazing.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Saturday, 30 May 1998 5:23 AM
Subject: Soft hands of Steel.
Next week I'll have to write my "Ode to Nanjing" piece. --Prepare yourselves for sap. I'm already feeling the pain of departure. --Only one more week.
I don't know how easily I'll be able to access e-mail on my two-week study tour, but I'll do my best to find something along the way at least once for those of you who are enjoying my writing. --Maybe in Beijing? We'll see. My time there will be so short that I don't know if it will be high priority. Nevertheless, I'll try to keep a written account on the train that I can perhaps send to you all from Hong Kong. I should think writing my accounts on that 20 plus hour train ride from Beijing to Guangzhou would give me something interesting to do -- one can only play so much gin and UNO.
I return to Seattle on June 26th at 9:05 AM-- 15 minutes before I leave Hong Kong on the same day.
The other day I went for a run around the track -- jumped a few soccer balls, dogged some tennis balls, and watched volley ball, gymnastics and basketball as I ran. China is an out-door gym. I rarely see overweight Chinese people. The Chinese seem to believe that all Americans are overweight. --I suppose compared to the Chinese, we are. I rarely see overweight Chinese, but maybe that's because they're the ones riding in the cars and the majority of the population is biking or walking? I really don't know, but generally, the Chinese are in very good physical condition (even the dental condition of the younger generations seems markedly improved over that of the older).
Yesterday was a museum displaying how the KMT's "phony peace plan" and desires for violence and civil war disrupted the Communist party's plans for unification. In talking with the Chinese, I would say that they are generally very happy with their current system of government. However, when you ask them, "What if the KMT had won?" They generally either say: 1. Why talk about something that doesn't exist? or 2. They look surprised and say, "I never thought of that." Yes, the cultural revolution was a trial for these people, but they now see their lives as so much improved over the old system (feudal and cultural revolution) that they feel very proud of the government that they have. Naturally, I've not spoken to all of the Chinese people in this country so this is a great generalization on my part.
If Clinton comes to Nanjing on his trip to China they suspect he will visit this museum (sp?) --therefore, it is being spiffed up quite a bit. Clinton is well liked here, I think. But maybe I just get that impression because the Chinese would not dream to speak ill of my home country in front of me. That could well be -- They wouldn't want me or my country to lose face. I believe unless you're Chinese, there are some things you will simply never really know.
We also visited a magnificant garden where Sun Yat Sen had an office and where once stood a Ming Dynasty Palace. As if the gardens weren't enough, the carefully embroidered robes, bedding and wall hangings in the display rooms absolutely drew me in. I was amazed at the precision of each tiny stich and the varigation of color which created the tapestries of dragons, phoenix, flowers and other traditional patterns. The hours those patient hands had spent....
The oldest home still standing in Nanjing was built in the Qing Dynasty. It was owned by a master wood-carver and consited of around 90 little houses joined by halls and court yards and gardens. There are only a few remaining. Traditionally, the more generations under one roof the better. This home displayed a sedan chair in which the gentry women rode (it only opened from the outside so that the women riding inside couldn't escape) as well as some of the furniture and household items used. I was impressed with the tiny, three to four-inch shoes worn by some of the women who'd had their feet bound and the porcelain "pillows" for you to rest your head on. Life in ancient China. ...We Americans have gone soft in more ways than one.
Outside our classroom window, I can hear the fireman perform their drills. They sound like the Marine Corps. The strength this country posesses in its sheer size and unabashed will to work sends chills down my spine.
I watch the people practice their marshall arts with precision and accuracy and study until 1 AM on Friday nites. The taxi driver works seven days a week from 7 in the morning until 7 at nite and has two days off a year. The professor is educated and has it a little bit better. If you graduate from the University, you are assured a position as the government will assign you one and your salary will be quite comfortable and your hours decent.
But, the majority of the population work around the clock for pennies, doing what they must to survive: peddle coat hangers, bananas, dig ditches and break cement, clean toilets and operate jiaozi (steamed buns with fillings) stands and restaurants. Here, nothing is too hard.
Yet, life is slower here too. The vendors sit and chat with each other and play cards while they wait for customers to buy their magazines, trinkets, pirated software and music, or maybe a pager or two. --The cell-phoned customers pass by on their bikes and life is picking up and my professors are all talking about "fangzi fangzi fangzi" (the new apartments the university is building for them to buy). --More bamboo scaffolding going up!
Oooo--speaking of life in the slow lane... went to the "Charming Beauty Center" after my site-seeing adventure. Unfortunately, the 'C' fell off of charming and it is now the "harming beauty center." he-he.
Lying under pink bunting and gold-leafed chandeliers on a soft mat complete with comforter, I received the complete two-hour facial treatment and full-body, fully-clothed massage for all of about 10 US dollars from a woman with soft hands of steel. I'm now an even softer American than I was before.
The Nanjing University performance was last nite. Ran home from the Charming Beauty Center to do the quick change and off to the Nanjing University's bi-annual student "talent" show. The theater was full (about 400 people) and the performances were varied. African foreign students danced native dances and Chinese students performed marshall arts, instrumental performances, ballet, and hilarious skits. A Korean group sang a Blondie song in Korean and some Laotions danced and sang. We sang a traditional Chinese folk song and our national anthem. They seemed to appreciate it, but it would have been a killer to have sang the Titanic song for them. he-he. I was glad to get off the stage and onto the disco floor.
A few of us grabbed some Korean friends and jived off to the disco around midnite for some Friday nite fun. The music was an Asian - American - Indian mix -- all with a good beat. The room was well lit, complete with disco lights and lots of foreigners. I hear that California is banning smoking in dance clubs? That would have been useful last nite. Still, I had a great time. I do love to dance. The clothes that the Chinese wore were pretty conservative and so was their dancing. -- They're in to moving their heads a lot when they dance. I found the air conditioner and danced under it with a group of non-drinking Palistinians with heavily-lashed, dark eyes and great English until it was time to round up the troups and catch the cab home. Exhausted, I collapsed into bed and dreamed of gold fish swiming next to a pagoda under a willow tree.
I've got a 1,000 character essay to write for Tuesday and finals on Thurday. I'd better elevator up.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Tuesday, 02 June 1998 4:07 AM
Subject: Early Summer and the Sap is Rising.
My days are numbered.
Just a few thoughts on life in China that I wanted to share before I forget.
Did you know that China doesn't have much of a drug problem? My professor told us that if you are caught with 'X' (sorry I forget the small amount) kg of heroine, cocaine and other hard drugs, you will be dead within two days. Yikes!! --Good thing I kicked my habit before I came!! he-he.
Did you know that if you have more than one child you are fined about 10,000 Yuan (Kuai) and the child can't (well, it can, but it's very very difficult) be registered. Therefore, the child won't be able to obtain an education or get government employment.
Did you know that because of the one child policy, the predominantly agricultural areas of China still prefer the male child over the female because of the physical labor involved in agriculture. Therefore, female children are still often left in the streets, sold, or sent to orphanages in these areas. This problem is not really a problem at all in the city. Most people are very happy to have daughters. Still, the number of male children to female children is extremely high. (I don't know the exact percentage -- sorry, I've never been much of a factual person. -- look it up and tell me!)
Actually, there is an orphanage here in Nanjing that I'd really like to visit. I guess it houses mostly female and physically disabled children. Ugh!! I have so much still to do! Unfortunately we have papers and finals this week too.
I often see babies and toddlers fully dressed, but with open crotches in their pants so their little bottoms stick right out. I guess diapers just aren't as practical and also too expensive. I could imagine that the number of pampers or cloth diapers needed to swaddle the number of Chinese babies in this country would produce quite a pollution problem anyway. Seems like a natural solution in a "squatting" community, doesn't it? I just wonder how you learn to know when the child you're holding has to go?.... Must have to have pretty fast reflexes and a clear path to the nearest toilet or outdoor space!The children I've seen in restaurants do, however, wear diapers.
I'm going to miss those glutinous rice balls that are sprinkled with sugar and wrapped around fried bread sticks. ---And the Jaozi Wang where you can eat any kind of jaozi (boiled dumplings) you could possible imagine. I'm going to miss chopsticks and spitting on the table. I'm really going to miss the squatty potty, if you can believe that. It's so much more sanitary than the Western throne.
I'm going to miss my double-R SCB (Rusty, Red, stolen commi bike.) I think I'll just give it to a Chinese friend.
The Laoba. I'm going to miss this diverse, smokey Laoba where I come to send you all my little posts. It's crawling with foreigners and run daily by the same, four Chinese women. We've all become close acquaintances.
"Sometimes you like to go where everybody knows your name...and they're always glad you came...."
I'll write again before I leave and after my finals are over.
Sarah. Wei (4) Lian (2) Shi (1)
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Friday, 05 June 1998 6:56 AM
Subject: ...And counting
Finals were hard. I eeked out the last character of that monster essay with a huge sigh of relief, wiping the sweat off my over-worked brain and plunged into the memorization of characters for my test. It was around 3 AM when I closed my eyes and about 5 when I woke up to cram a bit more before class. --That's what I get for playing so much while I'm here, but...who wouldn't? I can study at home. I passed--and besides, I already graduated. --No worries. Classes are over.
It's been quite an experience to be studying at one of the top three universities in China. I gotta' get me one of them Nanjing University T-shirts before I leave.
The tailor came back with my two pairs of perfect slacks and a blouse last nite. I love China. My silk pajamas and robe should be done tomorrow. spoiled spoiled spoiled rotten.
Woke up this morning thinking how wonderful it was not to have to hurry off to class and lazily laid under the ceiling fan in my periwinkle shorts thinking back over the last 6 weeks since I've been here, and about the two weeks coming up that we'll be traveling. How blessed I've been to have this experience.... --So much to absorb and assimilate.
Yesterday I rode my beloved bike down the wide, tree-covered street to my last harp lesson. We didn't play much--just talked about my teacher's life in China and her husband's job as a set design artist for the movie industry. He and her son are currently in Beijing working on a job. She invited me to her home for lunch the next day --today. I'll tell you about it in a moment.
After the lesson, I went over to David's (Zhong 4 Qiu 1) studio / art shop and found him in there sweating away over a contemporary sculpture he was creating with an electric saw -- sparks flying everywhere as metal hit metal. I thought about the first time I met him as I searched for my harp -- he was sitting there on the curb playing his guitar. We've become good friends and I'll miss both him and my harp teacher (Zhun Hong Min) very very much. David (I gave him this name) and I went to dinner over at the student center there in the art institute and ate a delicious meal of sweet and sour fish, qing cai with mushrooms, green beans with garlic, spicy peppers and beef, a type of melon and wood ears, and tomatoe/egg soup -- and, of course, rice. We exchanged addresses and I gave both him and my harp teacher quality English/Chinese dictionaries. How do you say good-bye to people you don't ever know if you'll see again? You just have to hope that you will see them again, I guess.
My harp teacher wanted me to hear some music that she had at her home, so she invited me to come to her house today to listen to it and have lunch. --She made some of the best shrimp and vegetable jaozi I've ever had and white-carrot soup. I listened to the ancient tones and variety of sounds that were being played by the Chinese harpist and she explained to me how it is done. I can hardly wait to come home and create those sounds!
We played her piano (she also teaches piano) and laughed about the last few weeks. I loudly slurped my soup and dreaded the moment when I had to take off the little flip-flop house shoes she provided me and put on my own sandals that would take me far away from her. But the time came, and I went. She escorted me clear out to the main gate of her complex which is a polite Chinese custom -- the further they see you out, the greater the compliment of respect. I was touched and will hold her firmly in my heart. Perhaps someday she can come to America and play her harp for us all?
I peddled off down the crowded street past the fruit stands, weaving in and out of traffic and off to the Japanese Massacar museum. This site is quite a little jaunt outside the city and it was hot, dusty and windy. My jeans were sticking to my legs and my throat soon became parched -- I had Jon with me again and we decided to grab a drink and ask for specific directions as we got nearer to the location of the museum. Upon entering the kiosk, I saw a small, floral-print, cotton skirt hanging on the wall that matched my terra-cotta t-shirt perfectly. I bought it on the spot for about 2 US dollars and asked to use the back of the store to change into it. --Walked into their one-room house complete with bed, sink and burner --and slipped into the cool folds of cotton. That's better -- off we went.
The museum was built in memory of the 300,000 Chinese in Nanjing who were slaughtered by the Japanese during the Japanese invasion (I'm sorry I'm horrible about remembering dates -- I think it was the late 40's). If any of you have been to the holocaust museum in D.C. or Jerusalem, you have an idea of what it was like. There were graphic photographs of the victims, a room full of bones -- the remains of some of the victims who were buried under the museum -- as the museum is built directly over one of the mass burial sites. There were uniforms of the soldiers and journal entries of some of the survivors. I was wishing that my ability to read Chinese was higher.
Evidently there was a 'safety-zone' that some of the people were able to go to for a time. -- I'm sorry I'm not more clear on all the details of the situation, but I understand there is a book that's been published called "The Rape of Nanking" which explains more of the facts and story. Perhaps you and I can both read it. I know some of you already have.
--The horrors of war. I think many Westerners are not aware that 20 million people were killed (I believe that is about the number -- please correct me if I'm wrong) during the Taipai rebellion -- and then this massacar as well.
There were approximately 6 million Jews killed during the holocaust, weren't there? --Such insanity.
We left the dark, winding halls of the museum and stepped back into the scorching light.
Watermelon. I definitely needed some watermelon. We peddled back until we found a busy, skinny street with fruit vendors and people selling hats, shoes, nylons, lingerie, sunglasses and everything else. -- Bought half a watermelon -- borrowed a piece of cardboard and sat ourselves down on it for a feast of watermelon wetness -- wrapping my skirt around my dusty legs and spitting seeds into the dirty street, I let the sticky juice run down my over-heated arms. Thank goodness for wet-wipes!
Home again I think I'll go shower and read for a while before I collapse completely. --Tomorrow is another full day of site seeing and then the fare-well banquet before the curtains close.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Sunday, 07 June 1998 1:42 AM
Subject: Night Train to Louyang
I think I'm all packed.
That is, with the exception of the last-minute, traditional dress I'm having Tailor Wang make for me. He's bringing it at 5 and I'm leaving at 6:30. --'Cutting' it close....he-he.
Yesterday was supposed to be another site seeing day, but I had so many errands to run -- bank, grocery shopping for the train trip, last minute purchases and photographs to take, people to see and say good-bye to ----you know how it is. I ate my last meal at the "Gold and Silwer (sic)" and took an hour nap before going to pick up the magnificant plum blossom painting from my artist friend. What a treasure.
Last nite was the farewell banquet complete with eel, octopus, chicken and banana dishes, salted duck, assorted vegetables of an unidentifiable nature as well as identifiable, whole fish and jumbo shrimps to dentally decapitate---lots of Xuebi (Sprite) and Coke to accomidate the thousand toasts and individual speeches we all had to give. Terran and I were cajoled into performing a dance number for the group and others performed Karate, Tai qi, sang songs and recited poems. -- Certificates of participation and enrollment at NanDa (Nanjing Daxue -University) were handed out with photographs of the group and teachers. All in all, "a good time was had by all."
I sold my bike. With wrenching pain I handed over the keys to my rusty, red stolen commi-bike for 100 Ren min bi (kuai / yuan) to Jing laoshi. He purchased it for a fellow professor's wife. I guess girls' bikes are hard to come by.
Spent the late nite dancing at the Daxue doing swing, cha cha, waltz and two step one last time before walking home in the warm air under the magnolia and acacia trees, pines and palms to the dorm. Put on my new silk pajamas and laid on that hard bed with the brown spread --my freshly washed clothes hanging above me. --Closed my eyes and slept.
Tonite we catch the 12-hour nite train bound for Louyang. We should arrive around 8:30 tomorrow morning and set out pretty directly for a full day of touring. Jing Laoshi (one of my professors--the really good one) and Dong Laoshi (we call him "bu dong Laoshi" because of his heavy accent --dong means to understand, bu dong = not understandable) are coming with us. I am in bunk 14 -- middle. That means there is going to be someone above and below me. I was hoping for the middle this time. The top is too hot, and when the air conditioning is on, it's too cold. The bottom is too busy with people and the traffic of passers by. The middle is, well, just right. --We draw out of a hat for the bunks. --May I be as lucky on the trip to Guilin in which our travel time will be twice as long!!!
We will be leaving Louyang on the 10th -- taking another nite train to Xi'an where the terra cotta soldiers "reside."
After the short day in Xi'an, we'll catch a 7:20 PM train out to Beijing on the 12th and arrive around 11 AM the next day.
A few fascinating days in Beijing seeing the great wall, the forbidden city, disco and all that --then we're off to Guilin at 8:30 AM on the 15th arriving on the 16th at 11 AM. OOOh, that's a long one.
The 18th finds us back on the train to Guangzhou for the last nite's sleep in the bunk before the 5-star hotel treatment in Guangzhou on the 19th. This means that we'll be wrapping up the tour in Guangzhou on the 20th at which time I'll shop 'til I drop and then scuttle my way into Hong Kong to spend a blissful week with Candy and Michael, and their dog Ban Ban.
I want all of you to know how much your letters of encouragement have meant to me. Your commentary on my posts have been both enjoyable and insightful -- it's enriched my experience and encouraged my writing. Thank you.
Well, hang on now, 'cuz here we go!! The next few weeks are sure to be some of the most interesting yet. I won't forget you.
My best to all,
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 10 June 1998 8:23 AM
It was dark when we boarded the train. It was a nicer car than the one we rode to Huangshan and Shanghai on -- I slept off-an-on pretty soundly on the modern, air-conditioned train after reading parts of "Grapes of Wrath" on the top bunks with some of the ole' classmates. The lights went out and we read by flashlight for another hour or so until we all fell asleep and awoke only an hour or so from Louyang.
The morning mist was sitting heavy -- weaving in and out through the trees. I saw a lot of caves in which people were living and the typical brick buildings and shanties also. Farmers out farming, others taking their stocks and bundles to market. The sun gradually lit up the mist until it glowed and glistened over the fields of wheat and corn.
We went straight to a Buddhist temple and then to lunch. The temple is famous because it was one of the first Buddhist temples in China and is now heavily funded by Japanese tourists and the Chinese government. It housed much of the same artifacts as the other temple I described to you earlier.
(I'm sorry to make this account so brief -- the only e-mail access we could find on short notice is here in the Hyatt hotel--where President Clinton will be staying, incidentally -- in fact, I'm going to go see the suite in which he'll be staying before I leave--and the cost is extravagant. --Also, there's a muslim nite market we want to hit before too late.)
So the day in Louyang was filled with Buddhist this and that. We stayed in a very nice hotel and enjoyed the nite market that nite -- complete with outdoor ballroom dancing and go-carts, all the ice cream you could eat and lots of little, bare-bottomed babies to hold and coo over. The weather was balmy and perfect for the families who come out. Louyang was the capitol of 9 dynasties and is now a small town of only about 1.6 million inhabitants. The number one tractor factory is there and it is also well known for its Peonies.
The story has it that Emperess Wu went into her garden in the winter time and ordered all the flowers to bloom -- which they did, with the exception of the Peonie. So, she had her banished to Louyang where she bloomed and grew with fervor. Now the peonie is a symbol of strength and resistance to power. She is to be the national flower as well.
The following day we went to the Buddhist caves along a tributary of the Yellow river. These are caves carved up in the side of the mountain in which are housed hundreds of thousands of Buddhas and Buddhvistas of all shapes and sizes -- the largest being over 17 meters tall. They look out over the river as the sun is coming up -- it is a place of light.
We also visted the forest tomb of Kwan Ti (is that spelled right?)--he was a general and is now one of the two Chinese Saints --Confucious being the other. He is recognized as the saint of Kong fu and Success/wealth. There were all sorts of people there kow towing to his image -- burning incense and paper gifts--hoping that their children and grandchildren would be prosperous after their college entrance exams. The stone, tortise steeles were exquisitly and carefully carved as were the other stone images in the surrounding gardens.
On the way to the bus we often are met with the usual mob of merchants trying to get us to buy this or that knick knack -- it is heart breaking to see the crippled beggars asking for money--some have no hands or legs. There are crippled children as well. I've heard, but don't know if it's true, that crippling children to turn them into "better" beggars used to be a common practice and is still often practiced today...I hope not.
Back at the hotel we showered and prepared to hop back on the nite train out to Xi'an.
We left the hotel around 10 PM and waited for the train to arrive. Drifting in and out of sleep I watched the other passengers coming and going until it was our turn to board around 12:30 AM. The train was old and rickity...it was hot and not air-conditioned. 'Someone' had over sold car #4 so that when we boarded there was hardly room to move about. People without bed tickets were being chased out of our beds and into other cars. After a long, hot, confrontation with humanity the confusion was disolved and I climbed up to the top bunk around 1:30 in the morning. The train rocked and swayed -- I was sure we would de-rail at any moment or that the lurching of the train would throw the luggage from the overhead racks onto the angry passengers seated in the two-foot walkway below me who'd been chased from my bed. --Not able to sit up straight in th bed --we tried to lay still and find air in the stale space. The fan turned on and paranoia hit me. -- I was siezed with the thought of being mugged or killed in my sleep on the train. I don't know why. I lay fitfully deciding my fate -- de-railment, or strangling. I was glad to see the morning mist and the sun rising -- all my organs intact.
Here in Xi'an we are staying in the Xi Bei Daxue Foreign Housing. Somehow I lucked out and have my own room. After breakfast we went straight out to the sights. -- The prehistoric archeological site and then the terra cotta soldiers.
The ranks and rows of soldiers -- images of people past. The soldiers were created at the command of the Emperor to gaurd his tomb (which has not yet been excavated -- it is said to have streams of mercury and astronomic charts painted on the ceiling). This is the same Emperor who had the great wall built. --I was impressed that he had such power -- and such self-serving aims--sacrificing the lives of literally millions to accomplish his visions of grandeur.
Today I was there to witness it. This weekend I will walk the great wall. --We catch the nite train to Beijing tomorrow evening. --Wish me continued luck.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Tuesday, 16 June 1998 8:36 AM
The train was lux from Xi'an to Beijing. I slept 'como un tronco' and awoke refreshed.
Beijing -- it already seems so long ago - it really helped when I was able to write daily.
The new Beijing train station is beautiful and modern -- it reminded me of Shanghai. We went to our hotel--a nice, comfy-wumfy place complete with laundry service that cost me my left-over arm, and then to the summer palace. It was a lazy, cloudy day and the people were out in droves. We strolled around the 200-some-odd hectares of grounds ducking in and out of temples and palace pagodas- -looking at ancient artifacts through smudged window panes and boating across the lake to the marble boat on the other side. --Lately, I've been to a lot of places I'd love to play capture the flag at -- the summer palace was one of those.
I suppose I should back track and tell you about the last day in Xi'an too -- we went to see the steele forest where hundreds of carved stone tablets are on display containing the etched script of confucion scholars, monks, and poets. -- A veritable translator's paradise. The carvings were exquisit and individualized -- I never understood how prized writing is in China. It is an art form in and of itself.
Back to Beijing.
After the day at the summer palace and a typical lunch, we sat in on a performance of the Beijing acrobats. Perhaps some of you have seen them? --Truly remarkable. Contortionists, magic tricks, balancing acts, and feats of strength and balance. Nevertheless, I was happy to hit the sack that nite. --It's no wonder people think traveling makes you tired...I guess if you always went with tour groups on these whirl wind things you are. It's down right exhausting.
Wondered down to breakfast early the next morning and then to the bus to jog out to the Ming tombs.
We entered only one of the excavated tombs -- which had mostly been cleaned out by grave robbers when they found it. The air was stale and the stone walls immense. As we wound our way through the catacomb, I wondered at the greatness of these tombs -- how much time and effort went into building them for these "Heavenly Kings."
There were many pieces of art, pottery, clothing, jewlery and other Imperial trinkets on display in the museum -- I walked around the back of the tombs outside to get away from the crowds a bit and ponder about the place. It was lush and green in the mist -- the cedar trees hung about me in solitude and the pomegranite trees were blooming their regal orange blossoms. So much history in this world -- so many events that take place in time that meant so much to so many -- and I didn't know about it until now.
Other things we did in Beijing --
ate Peking Duck -- mmmmm.
Church on the fourth floor of the tallest building in Beijing near the embassies.
Solistice temple -- This left and impression on me. Everything was in 9's or a multiple of 9. Here the emperor came to worship when the sun was at its solstice. The tiles of cobalt blue, aqua green, yellows and reds --- the painting and artwork on the buildings was exquisit. there was a long, marble strip from one end to the other where the Imperial procession complete with musicians and elephants used to walk from one end of the temple complex to the main hall of worship. --It looked like a landing strip it was so long! There is a wall around part of the temple which is circular so that you can whisper against it and a person on the other side can hear you as if you were standing beside him or her.
I especially liked the museum of ancient musical instruments.
The forbidden city. Another great place to play capture the flag! Wow. There was the clock collection -- European as well as Chinese. The rooms for the concubines and Empress -- Emperor's chambers -- all through smudged windows you could view the wall hangings, the thrones, the rooms almost as though someone had just moved out and no one ever even went back to dust.
There is a feeling of power in Beijing -- a feeling you can't shake. After you walk out of the forbidden city you walk down a long corridor of trees lined by rooms which used to house the eunichs and soldiers out into Tiananmen Square. -- If you have ever visited the Berlin Wall perhaps you can understand the feeling that hangs in the air here. It's ominous -- and tangible. You can't walk away from it -- you don't want to -- it draws you in and repels you all at the same time. Chairman Mao's Portrait hangs in gigantic proportions over the gate leading to the forbidden city -- The red, Chinese flag flies over head and the soldiers in their green, white-gloved uniforms are solemnly standing gaurd. There is a crowd gathered at the base of the main flag pole. They sit there on newspaper and cardboard in silence as they look at the flag and Mao. --They are Chinese and this is their country.
At the other end of the square is Mao's masoleum where he lies enshrined in a glass coffin. Unfortunately, we got there too late to view his remains.
Kites were being flown all over the square -- the wind was strong under the gray sky. Children in brightly-colored uniforms, holding boquets of multi-colored flowers came pouring out of the people's congress building at the side of the square. -- Suddenly, The gray was filled with their laughter and I walked with them a while. Children changing with China.
I sat on the square for a while with our 22 year-old tour guide as the rest of the group scattered about to soak up the feeling. --She asked me about my life and I told here a bit about my interests. She wants to travel too. I hope she gets the opportunity.
Back on the train early Monday morning we were in for the 27 hour ride to Guilin. I was feeling pretty lousy, frankly, and was grateful for the chance to just crash on my bunk and watch the countless wheatfields pass me by. Getting up to pour boiled water in my ramen noodles and slurp them down -- laying back down again to read, daydream, or listen to some CD or another. Around nightfall the wheat turned to green hills and rice patties. By the time I woke up at 6 the next morning the wheat was completely gone -- replaced by rice, water buffalo, pink water lillies and the lush mountains of the south.
The Chinese have a set schedule for your train riding enjoyment. They come around and close the curtains at noon for the two hour ciesta time, then they just flip the lights out for you around 9:30 PM deciding that it's time for bed (and no, you have no bunk light) -- At 6 they come around and open the curtains for you and at 6:30 AM the radio comes on with the news. At 8 AM there is a lady that comes over the loud speaker giving you stretching exercises to do. Everyone stands cramped in the aisle stretching to her countdown.
--I stayed in my bunk listening to U2 and watching the peasants out my window with their wide-straw hats, pants rolled up to their knees, sleeves up to their elbows -- mud up to their ankles in rice patties.
We arrived in Guilin none to soon. All of us are a little tired of each other and ready for a break. The air is thick and humid. It's pouring -- thunder, lightening --we went to the seven star cave (big and damp.) and I came back to the hotel and slept.
Now, I'm here in the Internet cafe located about the Post and Telecommunications building of China.
We're going on a river boat ride tomorrow and I really don't know what else -- I long since quit trying to figure it out and have contented myself with being surprised at where ever I end up.
We'll be here one more day and then on to Guangzhou. -- One nite in Guangzhou -- then Hong Kong for a week and then I'll be home.
--Thought a lot about home on the train. ... Missing you.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Wednesday, 17 June 1998 7:28 AM
Subject: What was I thinking?!
I can hardly believe I forgot to tell you all about the great wall!
I knew I'd forgotten something, but I just couldn't remember what it was.
The Great wall was great. I just liked walking on it -- feeling a part of history. I actually spent quite a lot of time up there chatting with some Swiss pharmacists who were in town drumming up pharmaceutical connections. There is a museum we went to that tells about the history of the great wall -- all the manchurian invadiers, the weapons of use at the time of building as well as the workers--some of whom were simply buried in the wall itself. I took photos.
Today was the river boat ride up the Li River. The weather cleared up just as we started out so it left a mystical cloudy mist around the jungled mountain tops. We wound our way slowly down the river -- past more water buffalo and people in straw hats -- fishermen on bamboo rafts -- white goats dotting some of the rocky mountain slops between the foliage. --It's what post cards are made of....until.
"Hey, Jon, what do you think that floaty is coming towards us?" I had just finished telling him of my experience on the Nile. The weather was hot like it was here -- excepting the humidity here--and I remember floating down the Nile thinking I'd like to jump in and cool off when a very dead and bloated water buffalo came floating along the boat -- suddenly the idea of jumping in made me itch with illness. So, we speculated about the floaty coming towards us -- wood, some plastic garbage debris (which was frequent), --getting closer we thought maybe it was a bloated monkey (we'd seen monkeys just yesterday) --
No, it couldn't be.... it was. It was human, bloated, blackened and very dead. I nearly wretched over the side of the boat, but managed to maintain my composure. Surely someone on the river had seen him before us. Why had no one pulled him out? No one screamed. No one really even reacted -- shock set in and we all wondered if we had just seen what we thought we saw or if it were some sort of something else. But, no. It really was a human and he really was dead and floating past us ten feet away. No one even called the patrol--there was no patrol to call. So we floated on down the river, but I didn't take any more pictures of the fairy tale world. Somehow, the dichotomies I've been experiencing in China just got bigger.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Tuesday, 23 June 1998 6:08 AM
Subject: Final notes
Jon and I broke with the group in Guangzhou and headed for the border by bus. --On and off the bus with our luggage and a few left over slices of Pizza Hut pizza and oreos through customs.
It was raining in Hong Kong and is today too. It's also sweltering with humidity and the buzz of commerce.
What a change from China.... already China seems like some distant vision. The glass skyscrapers, cars and subways -- shopping malls and name brand stores--all in Neon character writing. Jon speaks Cantonese as well as Mandarin -- I'm lost in the language here.
Yesterday Candy (I'm staying with Michael and Candy --friends) took us to the country club and then to afternoon tea. --She decided I needed a good spoiling after my "hardships." :)
I hope you've all enjoyed my writing. This is the last of them. Thank you all once again for all your support and letters of appreciation.
I'll be home Friday. Sarah.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Monday, 29 June 1998 9:06 AM
For those of you who don't know, which is probably all of you, Jake is one of my classmates from the University of Washington and has just arrived to study at Bei Da (Beijing University) for the summer. So, the saga continues.
Clinton is supposed to arrive in Hong Kong tomorrow, I believe.
I watched one his speeches on Monday. I was standing in a steep alley way somewhere in Hong Kong-it was pouring, so I and about four Chinese guys stood under umbrellas and watched the speech on a TV located on the counter of someone's kiosk.
Hong Kong is full of stuff.
I still can't get over how much stuff is in Hong Kong. The air is full of stuff too-sometimes, you just stick out your tounge and you can actually taste it. blech.
The high rises-everywhere highrises and more highrises and more highrises-you feel almost suffocated in highrises and people and stuff and the heavy heavy, sticky heat, and cars, and people and horns and highrises and sticky, heavy, humid heat.
And then you get on the subway-and the bus-and the mini-vans-and the double-decker bus-and the subway again-then take a taxi and now a tram and now a ferry, walk a bit-and finally you're there. The transportation in Hong Kong is amazingly efficient....once you figure it out. I bought an octopus card that I can just keep putting money on--It stays in my purse. All I have to do is swipe my purse past the sensor and the sensor reads my octopus card right through my bag-it clicks off the fare from my card and I'm allowed to pass through the turnstyle.
It reminds me of that story "The Sneetches" by Dr. Suess:
"Off again, on again, in again, out again, through the machines they raced round and about again-changing their stars every minute or two, they kept paying money they kept running through until neither the plain or the star bellies knew whether this one was that one or that one was this one or which one was what one or what one was who."-Welcome to Hong Kong.
And then there is the ocean-complete peace. Thousands of little green islands dotting the blue...reminding me of Never Never Land.
And there is the old woman walking toward you in the middle of the busy street. She is bent and small...wrinkled and somewhat toothless...she wears simple clothes and a Chinese straw hat-she pulls a cart with who knows what ...and there is light in her eyes and a smile for you when you greet her-inner peace.
I go to June's school and sit with a little girl. We read "One Frog, One Fly." Her English is very good, actually. We discuss whose eyes are big, bigger and biggest-small, smaller and smallest and she tells me about what she sees on the pages of the book. In this little room located in one of the highrises of Hong Kong there is quiet as our minds connect. When everything is big and then seems bigger-the smallest things can calm my nerves.
I am happy to be back on the subway, the bus, the van and at home at last in the village of Sai Kung-looking out over the ocean, the islands, the boats.
I need to learn Cantonese. These people are so full of life! Many of them understand Putonghua-what I spoke in China-but they don't all speak it very well. I'll work on it.
Sundays are an event-all the Phillipino (sp?) amas (maids) come out of their homes and congregate like huge flocks of chattering birds in every park, on every sidewalk, in every subway station in Hong Kong. They are playing games, gossiping, cutting and combing each other's hair -- enjoying their day off. I tower over them in the subway. My 5'2" frame feels collossal.
Ida is the ama that lives with the family I am staying with.-Her son is 21 and lives in Manila. She has a sister here in Hong Kong and a neice. The rest of her family is still in Manila. She works all day cleaning and ironing-we try and get her to sit with us at mealtimes, but she won't.-She doesn't think it's proper. She likes working for this family because they are so good to her, she says. "They don't feed me left-over scraps after meal and treat me like an animal. I'm not an animal." They flew her son out here for Christmas and give her vacations. She has her own apartment off the house and is very happy. I hear her singing all the time....I think, we are so blessed in America. There's no work in Manila.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Friday, 26 June 1998 12:13 AM
Subject: About Face
Sometimes life takes interesting turns. I've been offered a part-time teaching position here in Hong Kong for the summer and decided that it wouldn't be too hard to drum up a bit more business if I put my mind to it. So I'm staying here until August 13th.
I may write an occasional update, but I don't anticipate anything too out of the ordinary occuring in Hong Kong. I am keeping a close eye on the Clinton reports and Chinese news and will let you know the pulse of that as necessary.
Flexibility is a wonderful thing.
From: Sarah Williams
Sent: Thursday, 02 July 1998 7:23 PM
Wishing you all a happy fourth of July!!
As many of you know, Hong Kong just celebrated it's first annual "independence day" celebration this week on Wednesday. Everyone had the day off -- there was bar-b-que and outdoor games going on everywhere. I went to a big Filipino (someday I'm going to look up the spelling on that) bash with native dancing, singing and story telling and food as Wednesday was also the Cenntenial Independence day of the freeing of the Philippines from Spain in 1898. At the end of the program they performed a Chinese dance as well to honor Hong Kong. Did you know that the Filipino flag was created in Hong Kong? Hong Kong was a refuge for many of the rebels during the revolution.
--Wednesday was also the Canadian Independence or National Day, wasn't it? hmmm
No, I didn't go hear Clinton. Sorry if you were interested.
Anyway, Happy fourth!