A Week in Changping

Publié le par chrislzh

Monday afternoon:


Changping really is a dump. Well, I can’t really rip the place off too much, I’ve only spent four days here and most of that time has been spent either working or hiding in my apartment. But what I’ve seen of outside doesn’t really inspire much. Oh sure, there are plenty of signs of development: Fancy apartment blocks; shiny, fancy new industrial compounds; not just KFC and McDonald’s, but a pizza hut, too. Last week at meal times I made a point of getting out of the campus and exploring a little, with a particular view to finding things like supermarkets and restaurants. You know, necessary stuff that can sell things that are harder to find on campus, like good food and a range of goods. I tried a few of the restaurants. A couple served up mediocre but edible food, one was terrible. None I would classify as good. I think it was last Wednesday evening we had a couple of thunderstorms. I managed to get out of class and back to the apartment with a couple of beers before the first one hit. I sat that out and watched the news. The news finished in time for the rain to stop, and I went out to get some dinner. As soon as I got out the school gate I saw we were in for another storm in very short order, maybe half an hour if I was lucky, so I hurried to the supermarket to get some instant noodles or something and get back before I got rained on or zapped or something. See, the supermarket is the closest place selling food. No luck, it was closed, lights out, doors locked. McDonald’s is the next closest place with food, so I went there. Again, closed, lights out, some clown standing at the door looking dumb. There were other buildings in that block with lights on, and the ATMs outside the supermarket all seemed to be working, so I don’t know what their excuse was. The storm was very definitely on its way, so I wound up just hurrying back to the wee convenience store on campus and grabbed some noodles from there, then ran back to the apartment through the rain which was already starting to fall.


Alright, it’s a pretty pathetic little story, but it shows you why I think this place is a dump. There’s just fuck all around here to see and do in my spare time. Especially last week when my computer died. Any the tv in this apartment has only three channels available on a regular basis with a few others that come and go as the gnome at the other end of the tv cable sees fit. And none of those channels are much good. And the people here seem really cold. Well, the staff of the two mediocre but edible restaurants I found were friendly enough, but in general people out here seem much colder and more distant than others.


Well, I did get to watch 铁道游击队 (Railway Guerilla Force?) last week. I like that program, it’s fun. Actually, I prefer 小兵张 ummm…. ga. I can’t remember that last character. Anyway, Gazi is cool. So are the Railway Guerillas, but they’re a bit more serious and don’t have any plucky little kids determined to join the Eighth Route Army.


Actually, the worst part of working up here is looking northwards and seeing the hills so close. Why? Because I know what’s on the other side. I’m so close to Yanqing, and every time I step outside or teach in one of the north-facing classrooms I can see exactly where I need to cross the hills, and yet I can’t go there. Oh well, so far they’re giving me three-day weekends (that could change), so maybe next weekend we’ll go home.


I’m really enjoying using a computer that works properly, especially one that makes more sound than just a few random beeps. I have music again! Last week up here was very quiet. And this computer starts up much quicker and far more quietly than the old one. In fact it seems to do everything much quicker and far more quietly than the old one. Still, I hope we get the old one back from the repair place soon, there’s quite a bit of shit on it I want to transfer over to the new computer before we decide the old one’s fate. Photos, documents, stuff like that. Then maybe I’ll figure out how to burn them onto CD so that I actually have some kind of back-up. That’d be cool.


And then I could be really trendy and take it to some café with free wireless and everybody can marvel at how super-cool I am with my Lenovo surfing the ‘net in the café where everyone can see how super-cool I am.


And I got a really cool bag to carry it in, which would just add to all the super-coolness people can see when I go to the café to surf the net.


And I got a kitten. No, we got a kitten. One of my new colleagues was adopted by a stray cat last year. See, his apartment is in a little one storey building next to the main building where I live down at the Haidian campus, so it was really easy for the cat to adopt him and his wife. Then the cat got pregnant and had five kittens. They’re just about to head back to for a holiday and then they’ll be moving to a new place, so they had to find some way of getting rid of these kittens. They talked lzh and I in to taking one in for a year. We can get someone to take care of it next summer until new foreign teachers arrive for it to adopt.


The kitten is really small, a bit to small to see with any certainty if it’s a boy or a girl, but so far as we can tell it is a girl, so we called her Amy. Too bad if she grows up to be a boy.


Amy is very timid. Yesterday was her first day at our place. She spent most of the day trying to hide. In fact, I had to rescue her from behind the bookcase, which was not much fun. And then she cries whenever she’s alone, which she spent most of last night sitting on the couch crying. I don’t know how she’ll cope this week. lzh has found a job. She started this morning. Poor Amy. Still, I guess she’ll get used to the new environment soon enough.


And just to add to my frustrations with Changping, my phone still doesn’t work, so, even though I now have a fully functioning computer, I still can’t get online. Unless I manage to find a café with free wireless access where I can go and look super-cool, of course. They promised they’d get the phone going last week, but I still can’t use it. Bastards.


And the fridge here is weird. The regular fridge part is not especially cold. Kind of warm, in fact. But the freezer is apparently super-cold. I bought a bottle of vodka last week and put it in the freezer, then promptly forgot about it until this afternoon. I pulled it of the freezer only to discover it had completely frozen solid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen frozen vodka before.


I’m re-reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One. I can’t wait for the next volume. The man is truly a legend. First of all, because he’s the only person to have ever written stream-of-consciousness that I can stand. That is a legendary achievement in its own right. But no, the man truly is a legend. It’s an awesome story told by Dylan on his own terms. It’s intimate, but he’s very jealous of his privacy, and even more so of his family’s privacy. He only let’s you see what he wants you to see and you only see it on his terms. Well, he’s a better musician than a writer, but even so, it is very well written and well worth reading and re-reading and re-re-reading.


You know the weather is truly awful when there is condensation literally dripping off your beer bottle. And that vodka seems to be thawing much faster than I expected. That’s good, because I’m out of beer and I could use a really cold drink. I don’t really want to be doing another beer run at quarter past three on a hot, stinking afternoon.


Ahhhh…. Deep Purple. It’s great to have music back. I only took the bare essentials, only the music I really needed to hear on a regular basis, with me to Tianjin. Now I’ve rescued my music from the in-laws’ place and I have a huge range available. And yes, I have a bit of a soft spot for Deep Purple. They’re one of those bands I like to hear every now and then. And they’ve got a couple of good tunes, too. It’s not so good listening to it over laptop speakers, but hey, now I can listen to Sting and Lou Reed and U2 and Te Vaka and Simon and Garfunkel and Kari Bremnes and Enya and Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan and Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins and Mark Knopfler and Bob Marley and Sinead O’Connor and Skunk Anansie and whoever the fuck else I happen to find lying around in my collection.


Shit, man, if I had kept all the CDs, VCDs and DVDs I’ve bought in ….. It’s a good thing that some of them I’ve dumped, some I’ve left in old apartments for whoever followed me, some I’ve lent to friends never to see again, otherwise….. Shit, I’d have thousands of the bloody things to cart around. And if I’d saved all that money instead of spending it on music and movies, I’d be a fucking millionaire by now, I’m sure. As it is, most of my movies are still in the village sitting in two very large and very overflowing boxes. And there are more stored in various other places around lzh’s family home. Anyway, I’m sure most foreigners who’ve lived in China as long as I have have similar stories to tell about the sheer amount of music and movies they’ve bought, and those who’ve been here longer probably have to rent a second apartment just to store them all.


I suppose I could just download everything, but then I’d wind up just having to burn everything onto CDs anyway to stop my computer getting completely clogged up. Either that or by a shitload of fancy electronic doohickeys to expand my computer’s memory. Or both.


Shit, that vodka is thawing so fast in this weather I’m surprised I haven’t spontaneously combusted or melted. Or maybe the fridge, which I left the vodka sitting on top of, pumps out an extraordinary amount of heat.


I also re-read Rewi Alley’s Yo Banfa recently. That’s 有办法, for those unfamiliar with the odd romanisation of earlier times. It’s a series of diary entries of Alley’s written in 1950 and 1951. Fascinating. For me, by far the most fascinating period of Chinese history is those two or three years immediately following the founding of the People’s Republic, just before the Great Leap Forward. Everything I’ve seen and heard and read from that period, even stuff written by people not normally sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party, is so full of optimism and hope. Sure, bad people still existed and bad things happened, but if you see the grins on the faces and the hope in the eyes of people in photos and films from that period- that shit can’t be faked. I sometimes wonder what happened, but then I know what happened. But still… How do you crush such a spirit so effectively? Or did that spirit never exist? Was it just momentary relief? The war and the bandits and the warlords and the gangsters gone, the people freer than they’d ever been in history? I don’t know, but that optimism and hope that oozes out of every photo, book and film from that period intrigues me.


Tuesday Evening:


I talked to the boss about getting the phone turned on today, and he said he’d sort it out, like he said last week, but I just checked and it’s still not working. Shit this is annoying.


Classes were a mixed bag today. I had four classes, total of eight hours, but it was planned so that they’d do all the talking. Hopefully. This morning’s first class went smoothly. The second class was like pulling teeth, but with all the pain transferred magically from the patient to me. This afternoon’s first class got off to a good start: One student. A second showed up twenty minutes late. Neither of them had done the homework, which turned out to be a good thing, because I got to kill another twenty minutes getting them to do their homework. Easy for me, all I had to do was not fall asleep while they wrote. And believe me, I did come very close to falling asleep. Anyways, we got through the lesson easily enough. The last class was pretty sweet, the students carried it for me. And even though two of the four hadn’t prepared their homework, they were able to ad lib it easily enough.


The homework was to write a speech. They had to choose a place somewhere in this world that they knew well and write a speech describing it. Needless to say, the message did get a bit garbled in some cases, and some students thought they had to describe some place outside of . But most managed, although nobody was willing to go out on a limb and choose a place other than a town, city or country. I had made it clear that a place could be a desert or mountain or ocean or forest or whatever.


So I got the usual round of “My Hometown” speeches, but some of them went out on a limb and chose other places. One even went so far as to write a speech about a place she’d never been to. She was so intrigued by the film “” that she went out and did some research and came back with a speech about the real . Others wrote their speeches about places they’d visited: Beijing, Dalian, , .


It’s funny, one group of students I teach comes from Xinjiang. Well, they live and work in Karamay, but in fact most of them come from other parts of and were sent there for work. But some of them are actually from Xinjiang. But only one of them is Uyghur. I like Uyghur students. I never met a bad Uyghur student, and they always bring something different to the lesson, a slightly off-beat point of view that livens the class up a bit. This guy’s a real hard case. He did the speech on , because his company had sent him there on one of those company-sponsored group tours that a lot of big Chinese companies offer their employees every now and then. He gave a pretty good speech considering he’d written it in class and his English is dodgy at best. He insisted, of course, that Burmese jade was nowhere near as good as Xinjiang’s Hotan jade. And then somehow the topic turned to drugs. Well, I think that was my fault because I’d tried to ask him about ’s natural resources. He insisted that there was no oil or gas in , which is not what I’d heard, but we agreed to disagree. And I wrote ‘drugs’ on the board, seeing as that seems to represent a fairly hefty chunk of the Burmese economy. Turns out he’d been to a museum dedicated to the fight against drugs and had seen a large table piled high with all sorts of stuff he needed English words for. And so ‘marijuana’, ‘opium’, ‘heroine’, ‘cocaine’, ‘amphetamines’ and ‘ice’ came to be written on the blackboard. And then he admits to having smoked a fair bit of weed in his younger days. And somewhere in the midst of all this some guy pokes his head round the door and leaves with a puzzled look on his face.


It’s fun teaching adults. I can’t imagine keeping my job after a discussion like that in a high school classroom.


Wednesday afternoon:


Still no functioning phone. Bloody boss.


I don’t know why, but the subject of alcohol has come up in several different classes this week, which has prompted me to do my usual long-winded explanation of why 白酒 is called baijiu in English. See, too many times I’ve accepted the offer of white wine only to find a glass of baijiu in front of me and nothing made from grapes or with an alcohol content of less than Utterly Ridiculous in sight. Or somebody has asked if I wanted alcohol and I said yes because I was expecting a discussion of exactly what drinks to order to ensue. The result, of course, is a long discussion about different kinds of drinks and how much of what each of us can drink. And of course they all want to know how much baijiu I can handle. The clearest answer I’ve given so far is that one 蒙古口杯 over a meal is enough for me. That’s not entirely honest, though. I have comfortably drunk more baijiu than that, but that’s what I want them to think. But that is generally about as much as I like to drink.


I really am enjoying teaching adults. And one of the odd effects of working at this particular school is that the classes are almost entirely male. I have absolutely no problem teaching women, let’s get that clear. But there’s something relaxing about teaching classes which for the most part are exclusively male. Maybe it is because we can sit around talking about drinking and smoking and, well, just generally be men. Actually, that probably is it.


At my school in Tianjin they gave us foreign teachers an office. That was cool. But they had to split us between two offices, and the two female foreign teachers were split up. So in my office there were three men and one women. She did occasionally bemoan her fate. She had to sit in this office listening to us telling drinking stories and talking about sport and other shit she just wasn’t interested in and didn’t want to hear. Maybe what I’m experiencing in class now is the opposite of the experience she had in that office.


I suppose I’m going to have to go and get some food soon. The options round here really aren’t that inspiring.


I am an idiot. So I went to the supermarket and bought some frozen jiaozi. Then I brought them back home and started boiling them. And then I realized that although this school had bought me an electric hotplate and bowls and plates and cups, they had completely forgotten to buy me anything like knives, forks, spoons or chopsticks. So I turned off the hotplate and ran out the door. The wee convenience store on campus proved itself less than convenient, and so….. Well, I have chopsticks now, but I feel like and idiot waiting here for a meal delayed by my bad memory. Never mind. Just remember: Never buy food that you have no way to eat. Or at least, when buying food, make sure you have the tools necessary to cook and eat it.


Yes, it’s true, I really have nothing to write about up here. Life is pretty pathetic in this neck of the woods. I sleep, I eat, I drink, I go to class, and I read my book or watch crappy tv. That’s about it. And having no phone or internet keeps me quite effectively cut off from the big wide world out there, which drastically cuts down on the stuff I could write about. Pathetic, I know, but this is where I’ll be for the next month. Well, apart from weekends.


And this weekend I am really looking forward to. The plan is to head back to the village. Man, I love it up there. I can play with my dog. I can drink my favourite Chinese beer. I can eat my mother-in-law’s food. It’s clean and quiet and peaceful. The more time I spend in China, and the more time I spend in the village, and the more I read books by or about Rewi Alley, the more I just want to move to rural China, and in particular our village. Trouble is, how would I make a living? Guess I’m just going to have to find some kind of compromise.


Thursday lunchtime:


I guess the boss just doesn’t want to go to the hassle of connecting my phone. Lazy bastard.


And now I don’t even have tv. Well, the tv was pretty crappy to begin with, what with only three channels available regularly and a few others coming and going as they pleased, but now there’s just nothing.


I’ve got two hours to eat, drink and rest, then two hours of class, then two hours packing my shit up and waiting for the car back to the world. I have to wait two hours because they bring a second foreign teacher out for Thursday and he has class until six. Never mind, it’s time to throw my stuff together, drink a beer and unwind. 


But the most important thing is: By about 6:30 or 7 this evening I’ll be home, back in the world, enjoying a nice cold beer or two.


Friday morning:


So I’m back in the real world. I feel better. I can get online, even if it is only a slow dial-up. Later this morning I’ll go and pick up the old computer from the repair shop then I’ll be able to get all my documents and photos and stuff on to the new computer.


And our kitten has gone crazy. Well, she’s gotten used to her new surroundings and she’s developed some confidence so she runs around attacking everything playing the way kittens are supposed to.

Publié dans chrislzh

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