Ahhh, Yanqing, where you can see your breath inside and if there were a fridge, I’d put my beers inside to stop them freezing. Well, the bit about the beers is a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s just say that even though the crate is inside the house, the beers are at the perfect temperature for drinking.
Yesterday was crazy. Let’s just get this clear, because it’ll be at least Monday by the time this gets posted: Yesterday was Friday. Today is Saturday. I’ll probably write more over the next day or two as the inspiration arrives, but I’ll make it as clear as possible what day it is when I write each bit.
So yesterday was crazy. My school had some kind of New Year’s activity for the staff in the afternoon, so the morning classes were shifted forward, exercise time cancelled, and the first afternoon period squeezed in at the end of the morning. Us foreign teachers were supposed to attend, but two of us pleaded family commitments and bailed as early as possible. It’s a bit unfair on the other foreign teachers, but, unlike them, we do have family here and that occasionally gives us perfectly legitimate reasons to get out of the occasional extra activity. Well, we do attend most things, but when there’s a clash between school and family, school usually, and necessarily, loses.
Stop rambling. Yesterday’s timetable changes meant that I finished at 12:30 instead of the usual 2:25, so when I left class, I ran back to the office, grabbed my bag, and jumped in a taxi to go to the train station. I got to the station at about 12:55, just in time to run on to the 1 o’clock train to Beijing. I did my best to buy a ticket first, but everybody said, “no seats”, to which I replied, “Fine”, and they all said, “jump on”. So on I jumped. I’d never caught the train without getting a ticket first, so I was a bit worried about what would happen. Sure, I’d seen the people wandering up and down selling tickets every other time, but I never really paid much attention. Well, I checked with the guy standing next to me, and he confirmed that they were selling tickets to the people who had arrived just in time to jump on the train without first buying tickets, so I relaxed a bit. Well, there were so many extra people on board this time that it took most of the trip for them to arrive at our carriage. But in the end I did get a ticket, so all was good.
Arriving at Beijing meant a mad-cap rush to the subway station, with a quick stop at the ATM, to get around to Jishuitan as quickly as possible. I texted lzh to let her know where I was, and she replied saying she was just about to arrive at Jianguomen. A while later I texted her to let her know I’d got as far as Gulou Dajie, and she replied saying it seemed we were on the same train. Well, as it turns out, we were. I’d gotten into the Beijing Zhan subway just in time to jump on one of the last carriages heading for Jianguomen, and she’d jumped on one of the first carriages of that same train when it arrived at Jianguomen, so there we were at opposite ends of the same train.
Well, my luck with transport continued, and we arrived at the 919 express bus terminal just in time to catch a bus that was about to leave and still, by whatever miracle, had seats left. Having had only a light breakfast and no lunch, by 3 pm when we got on the bus, I was starving. Fortunately lzh had bought my a huge bread roll, a cake and a bottle of green tea on her way to meet me. I can’t really remember, but she tells me I devoured the bread faster than she’d ever seen me eat before, then promptly fell asleep. I woke up long after we’d crossed the mountains, gone through Badaling, and were already on the floor of the Yanqing basin, not far out of the county town.
We got off the bus and went straight to the local Dazhong appliance store and bought an electric hot plate which came with a free fry pan and a large, wide saucepan suitable for homemade hot pot, then jumped in a mianbaoche which had four seats left and was heading our way. When we arrived at the village, we bought a huge stack of lamb and the various sauces, condiments, vegetables, and whatever else necessary, went home, and while Didi and I went round to the local store for a crate of beer, a bottle of coke and a bottle of Erguotou, the others set to cooking up a hot pot. Man, that was a beautiful meal.
Then everybody sat on the kang and we watched The Promise. Well, it’s not a great film, but so long as you take it as nothing more than a silly martial arts fantasy, it’s ok. Yep, I think all that anybody should expect of it is a bit of fun. That way you won’t be disappointed. Still, the cinematography is magnificent: The colours are very rich and the scenery is astounding. The Imperial City is, well, still a little too fake-looking, but still pretty damn impressive. The special effects, on the other hand, are fairly ordinary. Chen Kaige should have paid a bit more attention to the credits of Lord of the Rings: Hiring Weta Workshops to handle the CGI would have turned it into something far more magnificent. Still, by the time you’ve settled into the film, you don’t really notice anymore. The quality is mercifully even, which helps the whole suspension of disbelief thing.
It started snowing sometime last night, and the snow was still falling early this morning. So even though the ‘family commitments’ (a cousin’s wedding) I used to get out of that school New Year’s thing seem to have been postponed, I’m glad I made that crazy trip here yesterday afternoon. I do not want to have to cross those mountains in the snow, even if it is only a light snowfall and the road is still open. Those are some pretty serious mountains with pretty interesting terrain, and the highway does not lack crazy or over-tired drivers or poorly maintained or over-loaded trucks. It’s alright most of the time when the weather is fine, but with even the threat of snow or ice on the road…. Well, I’d rather not.
So it’s Wednesday already, I’m back in exile, and I still haven’t finished writing this, let alone posted it. Oh well.
This week we’re running our exams, which means shit loads of paperwork, the bizarre exhaustion that results from an hour and a half watching students write exams, but mercifully little teaching. Still, the amount of bridge that has been played with colleagues in the evenings and my general unwillingness to do anything more energetic than vegetate in the mornings means I haven’t really done much more than monitor exams, start marking them, and play bridge.
I don’t know how I ended up playing bridge. One of my colleagues just decided he would teach the rest of us, and so we spend many an evening playing bridge. It’s a silly game, really, but amusing enough.
On to more exciting matters: I learnt a new Yanqinghua word: liao, meaning to look, the same as the Putonghua kan at least so far as I can tell. The in-laws used liao to talk about the people who were looking at me in the market on Sunday morning. I checked the dictionary, and the closest character I could find was 暸, meaning watch from a height or a distance, but it contained no notes about dialectal or alternative usages. Could this particular liao have somehow acquired the more general meaning of ‘look’ in Yanqing County? Dunno, maybe, but considering how much of Yanqinghua seems to be purely oral, there could, I guess, be an entirely different origin for it.