Originally posted on August 7, 2011
Day 8 Wednesday, July 6, 2011
I think I mentioned that our apartment did not have Internet, which was difficult for us since we are used to having high speed connections anywhere we go in the States. We would go to the lovely Harvest coffee shop, owned by a friend of ours, and connect each morning as soon as they opened at nine each morning. The coffee shop was designed to be a gathering place for friendship and conversation between foreigners and Chinese, and had been very successful. It was also a nice place for our kids to go after school and order their macchiato/frappacinos or whatever those super sweet coffee drinks are called.
We usually had an hour before we had to take off for the day’s appointments. We were enjoying our morning coffee while catching up on emails, and Joe would share the news as he read it, while I wrote to the kids. It was weird to hear that Casey Anthony was found not guilty while here in China. Joe said he can see why Americans become disengaged from other parts of the world, because here in China, no one seems to care about Casey Anthony, or even know who she is.
Today we would go to our old school and finish up the fajitas, and share the dishes with the school staff who were there, a skeleton crew of mostly Chinese. Maybe they would not enjoy the bbq pork or the fajitas, but Joe would, so he was coming with me to enjoy his Southern/Mexican/Chinese lunch and a coke zero in the semi-air conditioned school lunch room. I would have to say goodbye to Xiao Shi, the baker, and Shi Liu, the cook, and Du Lan, our school’s administrator. That’s the part I dreaded, but I pretended that part would not be so bad just so the day’s fun would not be ruined.
Since I knew that our school building would be torn down, I took one last sweep of the place, and saw many ghosts that made me a bit sentimental. I went to the auditorium where Pres had played the old Russian in You Can’t Take It With You (good title for my thoughts that day). He would throw in a Mother Russia in a most funny/authentic/campy accent anytime he could, and make us all smile. Jack was the romantic lead in Annie Get Your Gun and sang solos for the first time, seemingly unafraid. I was always amazed that he could just get up and do that, and he did quite well. As I stood in the empty unlit auditorium, I could see Jack on the stage singing My Defenses Are Down, (also a good song for my thoughts that day). I also recalled the yoga class some of us teachers took on that stage, with a Chinese PE teacher who was so thin and so limber, that she did not seem human. At that time Jack was in his first year at West Point, and had recently had a painful breakup with his high school girl friend. In addition to the rigors of West Point, he was experiencing the sadness that goes along with these matters of the heart. Often as I did my exercises on that stage, I would pray for Jack, and sometimes cry, thinking of him being so far away and hurting so much. As I looked at the stage today, I remembered that he is happily married now to Joanna, whom he had admired the whole time he lived in China, and how she was really his first love, and now they belonged to each other. I also thought about his deployment to Iraq tomorrow, and suddenly wished we were back in the old high school days, and my handsome Jack was up there singing his solo again.
You may wonder how I could go through this normal day in China with him deploying the next day. Well first of all, as anyone who has lived in China knows, there is no normal day there. And secondly, it wasn’t that I did not think of it all the time, both today and during his deployment. But as military families know, sitting in a room wringing your hands brings no comfort either…so you keep busy and you pray silently…all day long. But yes, throughout this day, and all other days, my son’s deployment was always on my mind.
By 1:30 we were back at the Harvest to meet our friend Patti who had been on our team and now teaches English at a local college. Patti arrived earlier, as evidenced by her swank Giant bike parked out front. When I asked her how she managed to keep her nice bike (think Cadillac) she said she had three locks on it. I had a Giant bike once myself, with two baskets, a bell, and a drink holder! I was stylin’ indeed as I rode to school each day. When it was stolen, I switched to a bike that was more like a Pinto. Yes, hard to go from a Cadillac to a Pinto in one move. I was still surprised that the bike thieves did not toss her bike in their van and cut the locks later.
Stealing is a huge problem in China. Bikes are stolen every single day, and hauled off in huge trucks to the countryside where they are resold. Some of us tried to think of deterrents such as painting our bikes with the number 4 which represents death. I thought of putting itching powder on my bike seat for a fleeting moment. I quickly realized that 1) this would not really be a deterrent since the thieves don’t sit on the bikes; they just load them into a van, and 2) I could not ride my own bike up to the time it would be stolen. (Let’s keep brainstorming kids!) Many of our Chinese and American friends told us that they just gave up on having a bike, because you would only have it for so long and then it would be stolen. I had to buy a new bike every year in the last four years we lived in China, and this got to be very frustrating. We used to joke that we would like to find the used bike store, and buy back our old bikes. The stealing and the chance to buy a car for the first time are the reasons that you don’t see as many bikes on the road now. You see lots of pedestrians and cars. So somewhere out in the Chinese country side is a happy rider ringing my bell, using my two baskets, probably with a small child in the front one, and carrying their Chinese tea in an old glass jar in my drink holder. They are probably smiling too.
Patti and I exchanged news and tips about teaching ESL adults, and how to make things more fun in classes where students are accustomed to sitting and listening. This is fact was my dissertation topic for my recent Ph.D. In addition to being shy to speak up in class, many of the Asian students we have taught (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) can tell you what a past perfect tense is, but cannot carry on a conversation in English. So Patti and I are trying to shake things up a bit. We laughed and shared old memories and Patti gave me some great ideas to use when I teach in Beijing next week. We had to say goodbye to go meet our friend Jennifer for dinner downtown so we ran to catch the Number 2 bus.
Downtown Dinner with Friend in High Places
Joe, ZJ & I went downtown to one of the large hotels to meet a friend who works there. Our friend Jennifer had to finish some work so she settled us in a cozy spot in the lobby and we sipped on our cold drinks as we waited for her. ZJ had some very good questions, and since the three of us did not have a lot of time to be alone that week, she asked them during that relaxing hour in the lobby. We talked a lot about culture in particular, and what types of things foreigners who want to work in China should know. We appreciated her candor, which was earned by over ten years of friendship. She also wondered why American Christianity is connected with so many rules, giving the impression that rule minding is the heart and soul of it, something my husband and I rail against. It was the type of conversation that one does not have often with Chinese friends, but ZJ had worked with a lot of Americans and had many firsthand observations about them. I guess you could call her a researcher of sorts, and indeed she was doing research for a project for her master’s degree. I hope she finds some answers to share with us.
When Jennifer was done with work, she came and sat with us for a bit. She changed out of her very official looking uniform and instead wore her Capri jeans and pretty white blouse. She now blended in to the other hotel guests. She wanted to treat us to the hotel buffet since she gets a few discounts each year. This was an unexpected surprise, and the four of us descended on the pork, fish, sushi, soups, salads and desserts. Of course there was plenty of fungus available (mushrooms) and Joe advised Jennifer that tomorrow in staff meeting they might want to change that name.
It had been four years since the four of us could be together, and even though the food was endless and wonderful, we were so wrapped up in each other’s company that it played second fiddle. When you only get to be together for such a short time, it can be ruined if your mind drifts off to the fact that at the end of the evening, you will all separate and no one knows when you can be together again. My mind would drift there throughout the evening, but I reined it back in, for I didn’t want to miss a second of the wonderful present by worrying about the very near future. That is a hard thing to do when you want to extend such precious times, and everyone is aware of the temporary nature of the visit. But we managed to cover all topics, and ended up by discussing how we could pray for these two remarkable young women, who I miss so much even as I write this.
After dinner, probably to extend the visit and to avoid a sad goodbye, Jennifer took us on a tour of the hotel, and we ended up in the spa. This place is a tribute to design, for you would not even know you were still in the same hotel, but you felt that you were in a peaceful Nirvana-like sanctuary. The lighting was low, the furniture was minimalist but comfortable, and the music and candles finished the atmosphere of calm. We went into a massage room just to look it over, but the masseuse offered to give Joe and me a brief massage in the chair, and we took her up on it. After being out in the heat all day it felt so good to have a professional work out all the day’s tension. We were tired and ready to go home, but not ready to say goodbye to our dear friends. We walked out to the busy street full of people and cars, and scooters, and bikes and kissed these lovely women goodnight and goodbye. We rode home tired, misty-eyed, relaxed, and happy for all the good things that our friends had experienced. We wondered when we would see them again, and hoped that they would take us up on our offer to host them in America. Thus the end of yet another bittersweet day, with laughter and tears coming at us so fast we went home to a restful sleep that comes when emotions are running full force all day and exhaustion ensues. I wondered what emotions I would feel tomorrow on this roller coaster ride of being a mom…in China…and saying so many hellos and goodbyes.