Where No Self-respecting American Would Go–Part 3

The Third Day?–I’ve really lost track of time. . .

The electricity in the house is an afterthought: originally, there was none. Outlets are set on a wooden base that is hammered into the wall, there being only two. Otherwise, extension cords are the wound, old style cord draped everywhere like Christmas tinsel decoration, several plugs coming out of one extension end leading to other extension cord box–ends. Extension cords in China are different from those in the States. The cords are larger and more sturdy and the female end is usually a box with 4+ male connections. More often than not, the cords are white. I’ve added my own, of necessity, so that, when I’m using the rice cooker there’s an electric burn somewhere–I’m not sure which plug-in as I pass three, though the first does not seem to be a problem. Could simply have been because my hands were wettish when I plugged it in and water got down into the connection. Howsomever. . .with the cords draped hither and thither, this is a fire hazard. . .for the West. As this arrangement is not out of order, I begin to see how over-protective we Americans are, paranoid of the smallest thing. We go overboard. Yes, this arrangement can be dangerous and I do kind of shiver as I add more to the mess; but it is not prohibitive. Americans are so über-safety conscious that we almost prohibit ourselves from fully living; we repress ourselves. We are safe and more safe where it is not so very important. At the same time, I think the situation is that the Chinese are aware and, therefore, are more careful, more attentive, though it may not look like it. We Americans are afraid of everything.

Light bulbs hang naked into space, some in rather inaccessible places, some in corners that illuminate naught else but the ceiling and walls. To turn on the bedroom light, I must have the main room lit or I’d never find the cord with the switch: it is halfway along one wall around the side of a storage cabinet, near the old charcoal stove. Then, when it’s glowing, I can’t read in bed because the book is in the shadow as the light is across the room. Even during the daylight hours reading is difficult, as the windows are high up and to the side. I must buy another extension cord, one of the cheaper variety, so I can plug it in and have my bedside lamp. Lord–another plug to fill up a female end!

This type of arrangement is not out of the ordinary, so many people still live in these older houses where there was once no electricity. The extension cord phenomenon is everywhere because of the usual dearth of outlets in a room, even if built when home electricity was available–which was, in the scheme of things, relatively recently. This, I think, is unbelievable for Americans as we have come to expect electric homes and we can only see this, our way, as the acceptable way and that any other way is outré. Well, it may be but, in fact, it may be, as in this case, just everyday. Not only do we find these living conditions outrageous, if we allow ourselves to get so close, we cannot understand why these conditions exist since we avoid knowing of such in America and see any such poverty characteristic that we see in pictures as the problem of the people living in such conditions. The people have a character flaw. A very common characteristic of the classism that marks America. We push aside and deny such limited, backward, dangerous. . .situations and pretend they simply do not exist. Ignore it and it doesn’t exist, yeah?

The breaker box is a breaker and main power source boxes on a board on the wall. The breaker is of the old style: a lever with metal legs connecting into a ceramic holder. Actually, I like this better than the modern, Western variety. I’ve even repaired one, running thicker copper wire inside so that blowouts don’t happen as often, thin wires giving out under any kind of load easier than heavier wire. Easy enough to do; there’s no trouble knowing whether the electricity is on or not–the switch is right in front of your face, connection broken. No fuses. I would say that fuses don’t last as long, don’t tolerate overloadage as well as these old hatchet type devices, which you can make more tolerant by supplying higher gauge copper wire. Would fuses, then, be a means for the electrical industry to make more money in the name of technological advancement? I think returning to this type of breaker box, which is where the name (breaker) comes from (breaking the connection), would be better and less costly–and might make us more independent, less reliant on the electric supply companies. We might take on more responsibility for our own lives, do you think? We would be directly involved in its continuing functioning. But, hey, why would we want to do this when someone else can do it for us, eh? If someone else can do it for us–and there are definite situations where this would be best–we must pay more to live.

If you buy your own home in America, you are responsible for all its workings. If you can troubleshoot some situations, you save yourself money. However, there are so many laws about who can work on what and what can be done that it’s almost impossible to do anything yourself without breaking the law. And the insurance companies think you’re ignorant of any of this, whether you are or not, so they up their rates at the top of an extension ladder that just keeps right on going and going and going.

Because I was raised differently and because I worked electric construction for awhile, I found this set-up rather barbaric and unsettling. But nothing happened and when the lights went out and it wasn’t old bulbs, I was able to fix things. Meiwenti! I kept larger gauge wire on hand; I kept extra light bulbs; I kept candles and matches. Although I did have lighters, I preferred–and still prefer–matches, aside from the fact that they cost less and last longer. Even now, back in the States, I have boxes of safety matches in various rooms about the house, along with candles just in case. Nature and poor quality craftsmanship mess with technology. I have found that 4-5 candles set up on a table where I happen to be writing are good enough to illuminate the page so I can write and read. Granted, I don’t do this very often, but it is romantic! It is difficult to find acceptable candle holders; most are either tacky or over-priced or both. It is fun to improvise. Which means none of the candle holders I have match. . .nor do the candles.

It isn’t just China that is “behind” the US. Most countries in the world are not so invested in technology that imposes reliance. In fact, most of the world utilizes this kind of technology different from America, so much so that it might even be unsettling. But Americans are very narrow in assessing these situations and, like the Brits in the 19th century, are totally incapable of letting go of their lifestyle and culture. I think, with this inability to adapt, that most Americans overseas miss out on much of the culture and identity of the people. We do not let ourselves enjoy.

Far too often have I run into Americans who lambaste the Chinese for things Chinese because they do not come up to American standards, as if America is THE standard for everything great, wonderful and positive. Very many Americans look so far down on Chinese, and are not at all shy about going off openly on these situations and these people in front of “these” people, that I am embarrassed. We Americans are such a fucking judgmental lot!

Perhaps my adjustment was easier because I had lived in Japan 15 or so years before. In Japan, there is no heating in older housing. I lived in older housing–or even country-urban housing. No heat. No AC. Heavens to betsy! I would wake up in the mornings to an iced-over beard and moustache, sit up to turn on the kerosene heater and then lie down until the room warmed up. Electricity was limited, though less anxiety-provoking. And the Japanese are more apt to modernize because they can do it without losing their Japaneseness. Mao has all but wiped out Chinese culture. Mao, a man who had little understanding beyond himself and his opinions.

Eh bien. So it goes.

Now. . .a bit more needs to be said about the kitchen, a subject we may be revisting on and off. Not only are the side walls separating from the main room–there was no interweaving of the bricks, just an abutment with concrete filler–but the floor is moving away from the walls, moving westward. There is no foundation as we know it, so the floor and sometimes its walls in its entirety shift. There is a crack in the foundation, to give the simple bed of concrete laid on top of the ground character–about halfway into the little burrow hole. It stretches from one side to the other, making for a slight rise to the edges of the crack and then a kind of leveling off of the floor. I must remember to pick my feet up or I stumble forward–not enough room to fall to the floor without hitting the sink unless I twist to the side and bounce off the walls. (You can see I’ve done this before.) The floor is wet and sticky with something-or-other as my house slippers stick and slap when walking through. It never dries. Looking back when you’ve exited into the main room, you can see the darker, dampened area. Z. I imagine this is from the grease from cooking: there is no exhaust fan. The broken open window does no good, for there is no circulation of air in the kitchen to begin with.

The cooking corner itself has a different problem, aside from no fan, no outlet for the spattering grease and the steam or, in some cases, smoke. . .as last night when I could not move fast enough to get the chicken–which turned out to be spoiled–into the pan and fried and toasted the garlic. This kind of non-cooking makes for a blackening of the walls and ceiling beams. Remember, the ceiling itself sheds, so there’s a little discoloration up there, too. I imagine this situation is why the double window is forever open, aside from the fact that its hinges are broken. Not that it would help anyway. This little corner is like a den where meat has been roasted, meat gotten on the hunt, and the housewife labors and sweats to provide for her man–and her little ones. Once, little ones; now, one–unless you find a way to cheat. There are not, however, any fat deposits on the floor. The concrete here is dry, miraculously.

Although there was the usual two burner cooker top and some bottled gas, I brought in my own. Well, Fanfan and her father did. Made sure I did. Quite simply, mine worked and was clean. There was not much I could do with the little flimsy cabinet upon which it sat but not use the implements left to grace its dusty shelving.

I think some explanation is in order here. In China you cook with gas. You have a 2-burner cooker. No stove. And–hallelujah!–you cook with gas. Bottled gas that is delivered when needed. Large bottles. You learn how to turn it on and off. It is a must to turn the gas off, for there may be leakage. And, then, BOOM! Unless you are on a rotation with the gas company, the only way you can tell you are getting near replacement is to knock on the side of the bottle. Great empty metal bottles make hollow sounds. I must admit, over the seven years I lived in China, I ran out more than once. Because, although the university supplied the housing, you, the foreign teacher, had to make sure you did not run out of gas. At the university, I did not have to pay; on my own I did. However, there was so much gas left in my tank that I did not need to have it refilled. Fanfan and her father took what was left for their own when I went elsewhere.

I never figured out how people baked, for they do bake. Perhaps in ovens of clay? However, I did see students’ mothers steaming or stewing or whatever in the guo 锅 (wok in Japanese), the guo covered and over low heat. In some cases, the heat was not gas but wood. The wood was delivered or, more often than not, chopped yourself. In winter, the wood-fired stove made the kitchen the warmest place in the house. Indeed, in one especially snowy cold winter I was up in the mountains and, when I went in the kitchen to be with my student’s grandmother, she got up from behind the “stove” and made me sit there, adding more kindling because, well, Americans are not so capable of withstanding the cold. Up to a point, she was right. But anywhere I might have found myself with this woman would have been warm enough for me; however, other members of her family would not allow us to get together. There was a lot of culture involved in this and I learned it but I was none too happy. Neither was she. In fact, she was more “modern” than her children and grandchildren.

She had been a widow for nigh onto 40 yrs. Her husband died young, secondary to the Long March. That he or anyone survived is a miracle, for Mao was selfish, self-centred and manipulative–as long as he won, other people did not matter. According to some sources, Mao did not need to go through the hell he dragged people through; but it was strategically and politically expedient. Mao did not walk, he rode in a litter or rustic palanquin. When it was over, grandma’s husband returned home to farm in the mountains south of Hangzhou, on the south central east coast. This time of my visit was during the big snow of 2008. (I have written elsewhere of this.)

Day Four?

I washed clothes again this morning; I’m almost caught up. But it’s so overcast, so humid today that even after six hours outside the clothes are not dry. No direct sunlight. Breezy, though none really gets down in here, walls and buildings being on all sides. Some trees. I’m sitting in the pathway of the fan in the main room or I’d be sweating like a stuck, roasted pig.

This is where fans come in handy. Old people wave then slowly; younger people faster, more frantically. I’m somewhere in the middle. And everyone carries a fan, whether small or large. I have several, including one small one and one that folds up and fits into a shirt pocket. Mine are not masculine, as judged by American standards; sometimes, grandmother, nainai 奶奶, give me fans–even from stores, no charge. I make a point of going back to those stores for whatever it is. How can one forget such kindness? Such caring? Which is one reason they are so caring: customers return. It is more appropriate to shop in your immediate neighborhood, unless what you need is elsewhere, for this solidifies your relationship with the people. . .and it makes you, the foreigner, appear more normal.

I must admit I was a tad shy about whipping out a fan and fanning myself. But I soon learned. And I learned, too, that my Japanese fans, theatre fans, were too big and, no matter how subdued colorfully, were too much. I amassed several different kinds of fans, even went out of my way to buy some, on the cheap if I could find them. Now, if they are not lying around on tables, they are somehow suspended from the walls.

Fans and tissue, for use in the toilet, are mandatory accoutrements to living. Public toilets don’t have “paper.” Some hotel toilets don’t have paper. Neighborhood restaurants may not have a toilet–they may not have napkins, as we know them, either but, rather, a roll of toilet tissue, as we know it, on the table for wiping your messy mouth–not too many Chinese manage this–or your hands.

Which leads to a discussion of public toilets. This will not be a tasteful discussion.

I am so disgusted by the nearest local public WC that I won’t use it, preferring to suffer through constipation or the possibility of a leakage until such time as an opportunity for a better place happens. I am appalled. It’s almost enough to make you puke. My students would not use it either. The floor was wet, glistening wet, with papers, news and other, strewn about. Some of the squat basins had not been flushed, of anything. The huge plastic vats for pissing in were full. And it was dark in there. No electricity. Small windows placed high up near the ceiling.

The WC cleaners, whom you rarely see during the day time, only empty the piss tubs–except for the older variety where you shit into a pot. No one cleaned the floor, even as little as throwing water about. Then, the night soil men trundle down the street, piss and shit stinking to high heaven and slopping around in their huge vats. With the condition of some of the roads here, it’s a wonder there’s not a trail of waste down the street and spillage on streetside vending places. Everyone but everyone who might be out at all hours of the night gets out of the little truck’s way when the driver shouts he’s coming through.

However, some of the public WCs were no more than latrines, long channels dug into the hard, discolored ground up against one of the walls. Piss or shit, it didn’t matter. Splish splash, take a bath. And most assuredly bring your own paper. Around the corner from one restaurant I frequented, I ran in distress and hunkered down to do my business when the darkness was invaded by several men who did not even bother to pretend: they were there to see if it were true that Americans were so fucking big. Or maybe just to see if an American could do it the proper Chinese way. I could and it was too dark to see my things.

I noticed that the WC doors are not marked 女 or 男. I think there may be a method, with the 女 always being on the left, as you stand contemplating the outlets. I was helped by seeing boys come out of one; no one ever exited the other in my sight. I’m sure it would have been more exciting if I’d gone in the “wrong” one. I’m quite good at playing absolute idiot here. Such behavior is one of the 36 ways to victory found engraved into stone at Yunmeng shan (云梦山) outside Hebi City: act the fool (to gain information).

Yunmeng shan is the first military academy in China. It is on a hill, stony and cave-ridden; perhaps low mountain is a better description. Apparently, Sunzi studied there under the then old founding master. Any more information is not remembered. Yunmeng shan is not on tourist maps, unfortunately, as it is most interesting and, therefore, most unassailed by touristy fixing up. I’d like to go back for another tour. I wonder who I can get to come with me. . .

The wheel ruts in the hard stone of a great war chariot were pointed out. And the platform from which Sunzi was supposed to have jumped, without hurting himself, in order to be allowed to study. Someone said, in the neighborhood of 14′ right onto stone. Sunzi did not injure himself. The entire academy and its myriad buildings is a religious monument where people come to ask for help and, I suppose, meditate. I was not allowed to take pictures. This was considered rude as the people were praying, I was told. I acquiesced.

When I rode by the market last evening, at 5:30, there was no one there. No food vendors. Only grandfathers gathered at the far wall playing majiang (mahjong, to you). So, I rode back to my veggie haunt on Wenhua lu (文化路), Culture Road, only to find the meat places were not open. I bought veggies: 4 RMB (about 50 cents), enough for several meals. Wenhua is only cultural because it is lined with food vendors, fresh, and restaurants and stores/supermarkets. The Chinese like to eat. Alot. I think you could say the loves of the Chinese are sex, eating, drinking and talking. And more eating. No business is ever conducted without eating. . .and drinking.

We foreigners hear this as a story but, in fact, I was once at one of these business meetings, being part of the business enacted and to come. However, I bowed out of drinking as I had a class to teach. My behavior was much approved of, though I had to decline drinking even the polite first sip three times before it was acceptable.

But back to the house. . .

There is a bulging crack in the middle of the main room floor, though not of the split in the kitchen; here, the halves are still connected. I looked behind the curtains of the cabinet and found dishes, pots and pans, kettles and bowls. With the filthy dishes in the kitchen, a population of 20-30 could be fed and watered. Things just do not seem to get thrown away here, like poorer, what used to be known as white trash, neighborhoods in America, where cars and trucks long past use are rusting in the yards along with you-name-it all. . .sinks, water heaters, washers. . . . Happens here, as in everyday, inside and outside the houses. Chinese are pack rats–and yet there is little appreciation of art or antiques. No one fixes up an old house or building; one destroys it and builds a more modern one. Box-like and without character or any redeeming cultural value.

The storage house across the yard was once a lived-in house. It’s front wall of brick extends above roof level. There is a drain there where, in Europe, there would be a gargoyle spouting water. Cross-like openings extend across it. So, probably, there was a way up there, for other houses of a similar bent sport rooftop gardens. It would be nice to get up there, too. Above the rooftops, what could be seen? However, the next building over is at least two storeys high, with a brick balustrade around the roof. Only junk juts up over this. There are no windows on this side. But if I’d climbed up there, everyone and his mother would have seen me invading people’s privacy.

Between the storage house and my neighbor’s concrete block style house–most likely brick beneath the concrete face–is a wall of old bricks stacked up ¾ of the way. Are they hiding something? Are they “just there”? Being saved for some future use? Walls will be made thus. Unused, unwanted windows and doorways are blocked off by stacking old bricks in them, not finishing them off. Sometimes, when they are walls, the wall will gradually dwindle as these bricks find use. And, then again, temporary often becomes permanent. Better, I guess, than leaving them lying in a disorganized pile, as with the rest of the courtyard, at the far end.

The windows to the storage house are gone, all but one panel and ¾ of another. Why bother to fix it? Bicycles and basins don’t freeze. . .though I do wonder what the boy bathes in in the winter–and where. Now, he is in a big tub on the centre concrete slab as his mother pours cold water over him. Probably the public showers where the wind will not get you and the water is hot. In Jinhua (金华), pretty much in the centre of Zhejiang Province where once the elite of society and government officials lived during the Southern Song (南宋; 1127–1279)–and one of my student’s lived without knowing diddly of this history–the water was wood stove heated. Wood heated water feels different: softer and more truly hot. Other places use charcoal. I wonder if any go electric–the bill would be outrageous.

In an hour or so Tony will come by for dinner. He owes me for France’s win the other night. Tonight. . .Germany plays Argentina. I don’t know who the second game is between. Today is 30 June 2006. I start teaching part time on Monday.

Dinner tomorrow night with Carnation and Yuki.

 

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Where No Self-respecting American Would Go–Part 2

Quite coincidentally, it rained the night after I moved in, though not very hard: the ground was only dampened. A little bit of thunder, a little bit of lightning, a little breeze. I certainly miss Kansas thunder storms with their black, roiling clouds, Zeus-like lightning and Thor-given thunder; those in this area of China are pretty anemic. Though, while I was out east and a tad south south in Henan at Shangqiu 商丘 over the past weekend, there apparently was a huge storm here in Anyang, evidenced by downed branches and limbs (tree, not human). However, still rather puny compared to the winds in Kansas that would take down great limbs and uproot entire large girth trees. Although it was a relief to be away from such danger, it was also not nearly so exciting.

Opposite #7 sits a grandfather on his little stool holding a fly swatter. Every day. Sometimes he stands up and walks a little way down the street. He smiles and nods to my “Ni hao.”

The people in #6 gather outside their entrance tunnel to watch me pass and comment upon the foreigner. I understand nothing, not so much because they are speaking Chinese, at which I am not especially competent, but because they are speaking Anyanghua, the local dialect, of which I know one word: kebei, which kind of means “okay.” I am very familiar with the word for foreigner, laowai (老外). They do this every day, members of the group changing on occasion.

I’m fairly well inured to the stares of people but Yuki is not, as she commented on it and the “unfriendliness” of the inmates of my living area (the first and larger, more well-developed courtyard) because they became quiet and stared. She’ll get used to it when she goes overseas –well, perhaps not “used to it” but she’ll understand it and why I don’t react so much. Many foreigners, mostly Americans it seems, never get used to stares and forever comment loudly and unkindly about the rudeness of people. They, of course, are not rude. . .and Americans, at home, don’t stare at foreigners. Americans, the ubiquitous “ugly American,” seem to not be able to adjust to a foreign culture or life style, always putting up theirs as the pinnacle of civilization, the superior cultural medium. This is too bad; they miss much, they miss learning people, learning the whys and wherefores of living logic. Seeing the world in a different way, including the prejudicial which ought to teach them something but it doesn’t. When you’re right everyone else is wrong. They return to America the Great with stories of horror, of the unbelievable, of the snidely joking, stories of lies. Americans like fiction, though not the reading of it.

For the most part, the bricked-over first courtyard is intact. For the most part. Beaten, mossy earth abounds; there are a few trees and flowers. It’s a nice, homey area. One resident, an older auntie, was sitting outside in the shade of a tree making jiaozi (dumplings). I commented in passing and the next time I came through, she gave me a bowl for lunch. It was not bad. Not bad. She gave me kuaizi (chopsticks) and I fed Tiger and Tony in my house, like a good grandfather. Standing in the entry room, concrete over brick floor. Because there were not enough chairs.

Wooden door, pretty much square once, low framed and with four window panels–one missing and filled in with a piece of wood–is my front door. Similar to those old country farmhouse doors in the States that do not any more fit their frames. Green peeling paint. Bamboo curtain before the door that must be lifted to enter. When inside, I leave the door open for air and a modicum of light. It’s dark inside, like living in a cave. Years before, when living in basement apartments I’d get depressed. Same kind of darkness. High electric bill. But I get to go out and, when I lift the bamboo curtain I get light. I raise it when it rains–and pay: the floor gets muddy-ish from all the dirt of years “ground” into the floor.

The landlady says I can have this house because she rarely comes here–and it’s obvious, especially in the kitchen, which is kind of like a closet with gas top alcove. It’s built onto the main room and the joining of the two structures is pulling apart. I can see daylight through the cracks. Cracks, hell–crevices! When will it separate and fall off, I wonder. . .

The dishes she left–not using!–are coated with so much dirt and dust and whatever it is that falls from the ceiling that I’m sure they could come clean except at a car wash using steaming, furiously pounding water and hard brushes. The shelves are coated with the same fine signs of life making them unusable–if there were any space. There are only two below the cooktop. I brought over my remaining gas and my gas cooker; hers did not work. If it did, I doubt I’d have used it, it looked to be something out of a Poe or Lovecraft story and very well might have done something other than cook when it lit, if not blow up, at least some creature might emerge from the flames–not a genii.

The sink is a concrete square basin with bare pipe with faucet running into it from above, about chest high, which makes for nice places to hang things–and I cleaned it and do so. But, still, there’s lots around it that is disgusting. The walls flake off. I kept falling against them last night as I hurriedly worked and turned around having consumed considerable vodka. I stopped because it began tasting like hell. Perhaps because I made it cold; warm–room temperature in which you sweat while breathing–was good, smooth, though not nearly of the quality I had in Moscow in 2001.

There is one light bulb in this kitchen area: just inside the entryway, to the right in the cooking alcove; when cooking, your shadow falls over the gas range and food. Well, at least you know what you put in the guo, after washing it, of course. One cannot say it is bright, though it does enlighten the tunnelishness of the kitchen, something a large mole or Hobbit might find just right. The two-panel windows look out on the courtyard, hanging loosely on rusty hinges and supporting themselves, otherwise they would crash to the ground. There is screen in the window. The light it lets in is minimal. Not really enough to make shadows. The smaller one over the sink is pitiful–but there’s enough penetration of Mr. Sun that if I lay frozen meat on the sink rim it will thaw in more than enough time for dinner. Yes! There is a refrigerator with freezer! In the bedroom.

The ceiling is old; I think I can see the original thatching. Lots of. . .things fall from it. I’m afraid to look up for what might catch my eye. So, I went to the fabric shopping centre downtown–marvellous place!–and bought some light colored, printed material and hung it from beam to beam. I had seen this done in a student’s family’s home. In the eyes, in the hair, in the ears, in the mouth–all sorts of falling objects. But the end result was good. Good. Even Yuki thought that was a good idea. No more wondering what’s in my food other than what I put in it.

This front room is full of the landlady’s shit, hers and her daughter’s. On the north, door-facing wall is a bureau with old things on the top; a table that I’ve cleaned off and am using, lots of dusty baskets and boxes beneath; a dressing table loaded with things. My rice cooker is there. In front of this is a pile of round, holey charcoal with a round, folded down table before it, hiding it from view–but only if you stand directly in front of it. The dusty, rusting stove is in the large bedroom through the door on the east wall, a door similar to the front door and which I leave open. Just before the kitchen tunnel and next to the bedroom door is a tall bureau or maybe shiffarobe. Filled on the inside, piled high with dusty things. Behind the open front door, which opens inward, is a device for hanging clothes and towels and such; this also sports a shoe rack with lots of female shoes, virtually all out of fashion. I will wash the rags and towels hanging there, they might come in handy. Beside this, on the wall at the right height for me (short person), is a mirror that I’ve wiped down but is still vague. I’m able to use it because I’m so shiningly handsome that I can still see myself in its depths. There are nails and spikes sticking out of the walls hither and thither; some are usable by me, others are in use and I dare not look into the aged plastic bags; some are rustily bare.

To east (right) and west (left) are the other two rooms, bedrooms. The west room is smaller and concrete floored with white-washed walls. . .except for the west wall of the house which is covered in its middle from one end to the other with tacked up paper and cardboard where the plaster has fallen off and the underbrick is visible. Things fall from it onto the bed that’s there. This is the original single room of the house, the main room being built on and showing separation. The larger bedroom is also showing continental drift. I only use this room for storing my suitcases–one with clothes, one with books–and for the desk, where I sit typing this, looking, occasionally, out the screened window (two-paneled) onto the courtyard and the house across the way (the one with the broken door) and my clothes hanging on the wire “line.” I washed them in a basin in my kitchen sink this morning, about two hours ago.

There is no telling how clean or devoid of soap they are but they are wearable evidence of American handwashed clothing. I think my mother used to wash by hand, for I remember the washing board we ruined by making it an instrument; I know my grandmother, Grandma Secor, washed by hand. I remember our first wash tub, a great white thing with wringer at the back end. Mom would hook it up to the kitchen sink faucet and wash, wring the soapy clothes, drain and refill the tub and rinse the clothes–more than once. I used to like wringing the clothes, watching them come out the other side hard and flat.

Here, I wring by hand.

It’s kind of a muggy day; there’s no telling how long it will take the clothes to dry. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got all day. Tree branches occlude the sky somewhat. Although it’s somewhat cooler than it has been this past month, it’s still humid to the point that you could cut it with a knife. Thinking causes one to become dripping wet. Just riding downtown (to get my front tooth repaired) and back left my shorts and shirt so wet I could very well have climbed out of a swimming pool. Chinese dentistry is quite good–and far more affordable than America’s dentists who are nothing shy of greedy. You can almost see them drooling over what you’re going to give them: one leg, an arm, you next born. In China, everything is human-priced, affordable. And it’s all cash-and-carry. A cash economy is nice. The people at the bank have gotten to know me and have taught me to count in less stilted fashion. We can chat a bit. They love my name and, at this point, I can say it properly. But, then, they know me from before.

I like my Chinese name. It sounds nice. It has meaning. And it is a real Chinese name, not a sound-alike, which is what most foreigners get, if they decide to take one. Yes. It does sound like my name but it is also truly Chinese.  史可, Shĭ Kějiàn, the mirror of history. The jiàn is not your everyday character and I’ve gotten good at telling them how it is drawn. They are so amazed that I know it and know the meaning. I tell my students that my great-great-great grandfather (yéye de yéye de yéye de yéye [爷爷]) is Shi Kefa 史可法, Ming dynasty hero, standing tall before the invading Manchurians that we know as the Qing dynasty emperors.

Contrary to folk history and government propaganda, China has not been ruled by Chinese all these many years. They were invaded many times by the tribes to the north, on the north side of the Great Wall, which originally wasn’t so great or so long. Manchurians, Mongols, Jin, Qin and lots of civil war and minor “invasions” for many years after the Han Dynasty. Even the Uyghurs of Xinjiang got involved and many folktales exist for these people. There is evidence that the people of Xinjiang are descended from the Celts, as a mass grave of redheaded Caucasians has been found on the western border of the province. But, of course, the present government doesn’t want to hear this.

A dove just flew in and perched on the flat roof of the house to the west. This is the house my neighbor lives in. The broken-doored one she uses as her storage shed. Perhaps I should get some bird seed and put it out; I wonder what other denizens of the air would descend upon the little courtyard? I’d hate to see bird shit all over our clothes, mine and the other family’s (a mother and son). Actually, I’m thinking I might take a chair or little stool (called a bench here) and sit outside my house before the gathering darkness and read or just look around. I’d get to know my neighbor. I might very well learn some Chinese while here, though most of it will be Anyanghua, which I’m not interested in learning: it’s useless outside of Anyang.

I cover my computer and printer with a sheet, the self same sheet I used as a curtain in my old campus house. There is no sense in letting whatever-it-is that falls from my ceiling find its way into the rented computer and ruin it. I’d have to pay then. I cover my dishes, glasses, cups and silverware too, making sure, anyway, to turn things upside down (not the silverware which is kuaizi, but the spoons, yes). If I had the money or the inclination, I’d buy more material to hang on the ceiling beams. However, the main room ceiling is far too high for me to reach from a chair. A chair seat is not so high off the ground and nor are my raised arms. It would be nice, though, to not feel things falling on me–or see them falling on the furniture.

The East bedroom is the larger, including larger double bed. There are three cabinets, one a chiffarobe with a storage cabinet above; the aforementioned ancient charcoal stove with new pipe leading out one window, otherwise unusable I should think but, then, where else is the charcoal in the centre room supposed to go; two arm chairs and the refrigerator. The wall around the head of the bed is protected by a cloth, most probably to keep the wall from spilling its surface bits and contents onto the bed, into the sleeper’s mouth and hair, maybe even eyes. The floor is brick, well-worn. Nice. A small window is high up in the east wall looking out over a concrete wall and a bricked up doorway (or window-way, I can’t tell). But I can see sky and tree branches above the wall and the slight breeze is a minor aid to the stuffiness inside. The room is musty and mildewy smelling. Not good for my allergies. Perhaps with the house open much of the day, this will dissipate.

I put my little fan atop the fridge at night to cool me down. Last night I had to turn it off and fetch a blanket it got so cool. Odd for a mid-summer evening in Anyang. This morning was close but by nine or so it began to get comfortable. Now, at 4:30, it’s muggy hot and I’ve brought the fan in here, into the central room. Where else would I be writing this? It would be nice to sit outside and write but there’s no table. Not enough cord for the laptop to go. Clothes from this morning are dry; now my gym things are sending my sweaty odor wafting up over the roof tops, for the wind is blowing.

The ceilings of the rooms are covered with some kind of tar paper to keep the filler between the wood–and whatever else–from falling onto chicken little’s head. Except in the kitchen where the wood–sturdy tree branches spread between little tree trunks–and stuffing is exposed and dropping powder and lord knows what else onto the floor and whatever else may be in its way down. Like the pot. Which is why I want something to cover over the ceiling and into the cooking alcove.

It’s very quiet now. The woman and her son have not returned. A pair of her pants hangs from her line, so they were here over the noon break. The garden to that side is rampant, unattended, cluttered with bricks amidst the weeds. There were once houses here, too. The dog, dirty and not-so-friendly lies in the dirt. In the centre of our courtyard is a concrete slab. Actually, two blocks next to each other. To one side is a spot of concrete, looking like something construction workers left behind. Construction workers often do this, leave shit behind. The steps to our houses are stone blocks, mine more than one. The little boy pees on this central concrete block. Mom says nothing.

Why is it little boys the world over like to take their peters out in public and pee? Awhile ago, I saw, in the park, three boys standing on the edge of the greensward peeing, seeing how far they could make their streams go. I think I was the only one looking, watching.

The unkempt garden is full of weeds with an occasional baby tree, stray stones, jaggèd bricks in a big pile, huge pots and smaller pots, some with flowers, broken vast pots, a bicycle tire and a pile of debris of all sorts along the far east wall. There is a clothes line here; it gets little sun at one end. I think I’ll start using it so my clothes (on the other line) don’t interfere with her getting into her house, as I noticed was the case this evening. Sometimes I’m so fucking thoughtful it makes me sick.

I used the public toilet this morning. Walked up there, about ¼ mile. Inside, the entranceway shows a line-up of huge vats for pissing in; deeper inside the filthy structure are squat toilets, stainless steel, lined up along each wall. No dividers. No privacy–only really a problem for foreigners who can’t evacuate but alone and in silence. The flush mechanism–I was surprised to find one–is a button in the floor. As I learned, to the right of the toilet used. Obvious to me that there’s no light at night–and, to be quite frank, I wouldn’t want to stray in there in the dark anyway. Aside from the very real possibility of slipping in the muddy wetness or on the wet paper dribbled here and there there’s a great possibility that something might materialize out of the slop and filth and jump on me. Frankenturd! No sink to wash hands afterward. Highly unusual.

I was, of course, watched. I think I took a shit like everyone else. I hope my parts were exposed and large enough to be satisfactory, all Americans being big, you know. The guys did not watch from outside to see me go in and use their toilet. No. They came in and either pretended to piss or just stood there staring at me. No attempt to hide their curiosity. How many foreigners do they get to see semi-naked and taking a shit in their pot? This wasn’t the first time by any manner of means. The Japanese, who are just as curious having heard tales, are a tad more polite about checking the foreigner out.

I guess it’s not so far fetched as you might think, for white males are forever sneaking peeks, if they are polite, at black males’ penises which, as we all know, are horse-sized. We do this just to be sure, you know. And if we catch one who’s wanker is normal white-sized and appropriately thin, we’re sure they’re not so fucking superior sexually as we believe they are. If we see one/them well-endowed indeed, we gab about it with our male friends, like old women over the backyard clothes line gossiping, gossiping.

The condition of this toilet–and the entire train station waiting room and WC in Shangqiu 商丘 (very far east in Henan Province and the first capital of the Shang Dynasty which eventually made its home in Anyang, old name Yin or Yinyi 殷邑), which elicited an “It’s dirty” from Guo Lifang, who would not then use it–brought home again to me how filthy this country is. The people are fairly clean but the environment is a mess. Dirt, dust and trash everywhere; people spitting, even in restaurants and hospitals; men pissing against walls, in the bushes, in the showers (I see and smell this at the gym); children shitting and pissing wherever. The people in Hong Kong are most upset at mainlanders because they filthy up the city. The younger generation are complaining but no one is doing anything about it. Mostly, people do not use the trash bins on the streets or in the parks, just tossing their litter on the ground. I was somewhere yesterday where some guy had hawked a lugey in the middle of the entry carpet. I stop class and make a spitting student clean up is wad. He never does it again: acute embarrassment. The girls like this, for they don’t particularly like spitting boys. But spitting is so de rigueur that most all do. They’d get along well in a group of rednecks leaning on a fence stile.

Perhaps my frozen chicken, taken out just awhile ago, will thaw out so I can cook tonight. In any case, I must truck along Dongnanying jie and go to the marketplace at the next cross-roads, hand unwashed and itching for water; no veggies in my fridge. Not much of anything, actually. This turned out to be just another trip to familiarize myself to the neighborhood. Eventually, I’ll become a fixture of only passing worth–a good thing. Well, actually not. Being noticed and accepted and spoken to is comforting. My strangeness at least becomes acceptable. In the end, the old women on their stoops and I became easy speaking companions. I didn’t understand much they said, even though they learned quickly that I did not do Anyanghua, but we got along. I was able to joke some. I found this a welcome ability to have. Most foreigners, it seems to me, are not so easy. You know, we are so much better.

Loud AC/DC at 9:30 PM got the people around me upset. Must be louder outside than in. This house sucks up the sound. Didn’t complain, though, when it was different music. So. . .now I know.

Had a visit earlier this evening from my landlady, as I was fixing dinner. I didn’t turn down the music and only stopped preparation briefly. I detest this kind of thing and wonder if it will happen often. The son looks just like her; the daughter (15?) is beautiful and speaks quite good English after three years of study. The girl emptied my kitchen trash, so I still don’t know where to get rid of it. Forgot a third of the Chinese Yuki taught me yesterday to accomplish this.

Yuki came by last night and we sat in the bedroom talking for hours. I calmly drank half a bottle of vodka. Entertaining guests, as it were, in the bedroom, including sitting on the bed, is de rigueur. I found, later, the reason for this is that the bed was the only sitting/lying structure in the old houses. Always made up. The first time I came upon this, visiting a friend’s grandmother, she patted the bed beside her for me to sit. Kind of flustered and embarrassed I sat. In America, this would have had a different connotation than please sit. Bedrooms are so private in the West.

My girls–well, my students, when they came to my house checked out all the rooms, including my bedroom, which was a mess, as per usual. They just walked right in and looked around to see how the foreigner lived. I don’t know why I just let them. Most of my fellow foreign teachers did not. Indeed, they did not invite their students into their homes.

It turned out this and the time I spent chatting with them or eating in the cafeteria with them and taking an interest in their goings on around campus and elsewhere was a boon. All the students wanted was to be noticed and taken seriously for human and welcomed by the foreigners. Not that the Chinese teachers did any of this. They, the Chinese teachers, are not interested in their students as people, only as bodies sitting at desks sucking up (?) their teachings. Not so likely as Chinese students are prone to doing homework for some other class during other classes. Why bother to pay attention when everything is done not only by the book but in the book, including answers to the exercise questions.

My teaching style was very different and elicited much excitement and, at the same time, much irritation and complaining. In the end, they benefited and were happy when they saw their test scores. Did I teach for the test? No. I taught a skill that could be used–and not just for the English sections. But when it came to the tests, I gave them some tips on how to take tests. Regardless of whether they listened or not, they did better on their important nationally standardized tests.

Where No Self-Respecting American Would Go — part 1

Where No Self-Respecting American Would Go

or

living like most Chinese

 The adventure begins with petty revenge taken over having gotten caught attempting to cheat–or, less politely, extortion. I was the victim. In the end, the present circumstances led to a deeper understanding of China that is otherwise prejudiced by my culture, my learning, my worldview. That is, irritating and fretful as the punitive behavior was, I came out ahead. And I am certainly pleased at having had this adventure into the heart of China, where no self–respecting American would ever go. However, having won was, in the end losing, as evidenced by the circumstances leading to my living down at the bottom of city life. . .where I gained more cultural information.

One year ago, upon leaving Anyang shifan daxue 安阳师范大学 (Anyang Teachers University), there was an attempt to cheat me out of one month’s salary from my first month’s hire of three years. I had been hired in February when the administration of the school was away for Spring Festival, Mao’s ludicrous attempt to rid the language, putonghua, of ancient, royalist oppressive thought supposedly contained in New Year’s that included ridding society of all celebration: everyone was supposed to go home, go to their family home, and sit around and eat and drink, no noise or wild celebrating. Because the school was shut down, there was no way to institute a salary, albeit the unpaid foreign affairs teacher, Zhang Xiangang 张显刚 Robert, had the contract to hand and had brought me in from the RR station. So, no salary until March when the school administration would return. I had the money to live the month that, though a nationwide holiday, was still a paid month as my hire began on 1 February. All things considered, by the time I left to return to the States due to illness, this lost salary was already pocketed, leaders and institutionalized corruption being what they are. Still, it was my money and I wanted it.

The first lesson: do not challenge authority, especially if it is wrong. Expect a huge battle, beginning with denial and ending with administrative pressure on close teaching staff. At this time, three years after beginning at AYTU, the foreign affairs person was not Robert Zhang. The foreign affairs officer was a woman and, so, easily manipulated by her superiors, women really not being equal despite government/Mao’s rhetoric to the contrary. Indeed, people in general are not equal. There is open classism here.

At any rate, there was no admittance of wrong doing or mistake by the College Dean. But I would not be deterred. And I needed the money.

There seemed little change from, say, the Song dynasty and The Outlaws of the Marsh, when rightful petition was denied and aggressively fought against. Like those outlaws and, in fact, the Medieval outlaws of Britain and Europe, I would not relent, something people in power positions (authorities) do not understand, especially this man who seemed to be interested in demonstrating and maintaining power (I noted this in other situations during my 3 years at AYTU—-and not just with him). However, I did not become violent or revengeful, as the Outlaws had. Although I had come across corruption before in Lanzhou, a far more petty and insidious and destructive sort, I’d not been introduced to the corruption of thievery, a much more common corruption. The corruption of getting ahead at any cost, always to the detriment of another, is endemic in China. Endemic to the point of being normal, everyday behavior. Definitely expected of higher ups.

Despite shows of egalitarianism, there is no equality to the new China. Women are still less than men; city or common folk are lower than entrepreneurs, academics and government officials; farmers are dirt. In fact, I learned that my students did not like to admit their families were farmers, if this were true, as they would be looked down on. Foreigners are China’s niggers: we gots rights but who cares? When you wrong, you wrong. No queshuns ast.

Since I did not relent, I was a real bad, out of step sort.

As everyone is supposed to be equal in the face of higher salaries and better treatment of those above, getting ahead is the order of the day. Getting ahead at any cost, in any way, as if to say that having or making more money equates to serving the State better, more assiduously, than others (below you). All employment is working for the State, according to Communist doctrine, so the more work, the more monetary gain, the more status and the more a Worker of the State you are. The more Communist. Rhetoric in practice. In fact, no one wants to be the same as everyone else. Everyone wants to be better, better off than the norm, which is poverty. . .according to Communist Doctrine. Since Deng Xiaoping 邓小平 had revolutionized Mao Zedong’s 毛泽东 policies, such behavior became, if not more pronounced, more possible. Indeed, I was to find in the ensuing years that the behavior in academia of The Red Guards and The Revolutionaries was not dead at all, only simmering and bubbling below the surface like a spot–specific earthquake waiting to happen. This is one way to get ahead. One way to eliminate threats.

As the situation surrounding the regaining of my lost salary elevated, things got out of control. It is generally assumed that I (the foreigner), as I was told, got out of control. However, if truth be told, the Dean of the College–the person under the microscope here–was the one to get out of control. He fought for his life, that is to say, he fought for his ill-got gains. More than likely, he’d already spent the money. Not so very much as I’d taken less than originally agreed upon in order to attain a better situation than that in Lanzhou Jiaotong Daxue.

My last official evening in Anyang, the Janus-faced Foreign Affairs Office Director had relented and was ready to pay up–as was proper; however, the Dean, Mr. Shi–I don’t know his putonghua but this Shi was not the same as my Shi 史–got out of hand and called a friend of mine, a faculty member, Robert Zhang, to get him to convince me that I was wrong, and because I raised my voice–and I do have a large voice when the occasion warrants it–because I went ballistic. I fumed at him and, when the FAO Director entered my house right as this odious phone call was terminated, I shouted at her with all the power and fury I could muster–she left precipitously, eyes wide, frightened and slightly confused and talking into two cell phones at once. She left the door open. Later that evening, the Vice Dean of Foreign Languages dropped by with the FAO Director to smooth things over and give me the rationale for giving me the money to which I was entitled but not entitled: I was not totally blameless, I was told, as if this had anything at all to do with the issue at hand. However, it was calculated to show up the good-heartedess of the Dean in relenting in the face of my ignoble persistance and, thereby, making the school and save face: placating the bad guy, me. Though perhaps buying me off would be a better assessment. That I was owed the money was of no account. Getting rid of an irritant and someone who was exposing corruption (cheating, thievery) was uppermost in Dean Shi’s mind. I was supposed to feel honored at being so generously treated. I did not. It was my due. I won. How embarrassing for the Dean, the school. It was important, then, to understand the error of my ways, my errant behavior that should by all rights have resulted in termination (I refused to teach after two weeks of promises for a new washing machine that never materialized resulting in no clean clothes–I acted out, something I had found the Chinese and hospital nurses responded well to—I had my washer by noon) and, therefore, how nice and good the school was in giving me the money. I was supposed to accept such behavior, put up with such conditions—after all, the Chinese do. I wanted to say something but understood that this rhetoric was necessary to saving face.

That was lesson number two, if you will.

I had, to be honest, learned innumerable lessons of culture during those three years, not all of them pleasant.

One year later, having returned healthy and ready for another wonderful stay in China, academic people notwithstanding, I was to find petty revenge must have its day. I returned to Anyang to visit friends and adopted daughters and rented an old house on campus belonging to a friend of my 干女儿 gan nü er‘s  father.

Now, I must take a little side road here and explain this adoptive situation. A  gan nü er is not a true daughter nor, as we in America understand it, a true adopted daughter. God-daughter does not even come close. There is no expected legal paperwork involved. This situation is old fashioned with the exception, in the modern day, of gan nü er implying that I had adopted the girl and am waiting until she grows up to marry her. The adopting is unofficial but culturally binding.  gan nü er translates as “dry daughter,” meaning not really mine. Moreover, I did not adopt her–or the other two involved in this–she/they adopted me. They wanted to do this as they wanted to take care of me when I got old. Of course, they wanted to take care of me “now,” since I did not know Chinese ways.

These three girls were students; we had become close over the three years I taught at AYTU. They were at my house often; they and their classmates were at my house monthly for a feed-fest, TV and movie watching, and general conversation. Even now, 10 years later, I miss this. With their adoption of me as “father,” I had what I did not have in my own life: family. A family that cared. This particular daughter, Zhang Fan 张帆, was closest to me then. The situation has changed over the years with the more aggressive, protective daughter showing an intolerance that has resulted in her, now, not talking to me; and the youngest of the group, Qin Lixiao Young 秦李小, taking on the role of protective daughter. Young is, in some respects, very much like me in that she goes her own way, has her own ideas and wants and desires, and will be damned not to follow her dream.

At the this time of my life, Young was elsewhere finishing her studies, Zhang Na Anna 张哪 was in Scotland getting her masters and Zhang Fan Yuki (now, due to marriage, Salimah) was the only one left in Anyang. We were the close ones.

I made no bones about this return to Anyang and my living arrangements; I did not hide my living on campus in an old empty house (apartment), abandoned because the original owner had opted to move to the newer teacher housing of the old campus. Why should I? I was guilty of nothing. Had nothing to hide. Expected nothing. I was simply returning to see friends, old students and my daughter.

The Dean of the College, the very same Dean who was bested a year ago, was, however, not pleased. His loss still rankled, apparently, and he considered me a threat when I could have cared less. He was not important any more. He pressured my gan nü er‘s father and his friend, the owner of the house, to get rid of me or else the apartment would be confiscated by the school and there would be further trouble for these teachers, my daughter’s father and his friend. In a week I was expected to vacate the premises. It was hoped, I’m sure, that this would put me out on the streets; definitely, it was to discompose me. I did not understand the why screw others instead of me behavior. Me, the bane of his existence. I still do not. I find it the same as making life difficult for someone for no reason but to make life difficult for them. As with the old Buddhist tale of the two monks travelling down the road in the rain–always in the rain–Dean Shi was still carrying the woman met while I had set her down on the other side of the road, as she wished.

However, I marshalled friends–who found the Dean’s actions to be as incomprehensible as I did–and we managed to find a manageable place. I was focused on not having a job and, therefore, not having money to squander on more or less top-of-the-line accommodations, as a good foreigner ought to seek out. This place I settled into was gotten less than a week after the threat to others had been made. Perhaps the threat, aside from being petty revenge where hurting everyone in your path to get to the one you want is acceptable (à la George Bush II), was also a (further) move to power, of which he had no need. That is, he was the power in the school, what further show of force was necessary? I could have cared less about him. Apparently, though, full dictatorial powers. . .here in a more or less backwater town at a no-name school, means a man who wants it to be known that he is the boss and, like George Bush II, is not going to tolerate any who help the enemy.

Let’s see if we can discover why my presence at AYTU was a threat to this man’s power. . .honor. Hate. Childish petulance. Fear of losing status. Humberto Marriotti might consider this behavior that of an incompetent. Perhaps more akin to Elmer Fudd’s frustration at never being able to bag that siwwy wabbit. Hopping mad. Yuki suggested that, after I moved, I could further frustrate this man by simply showing up on campus–often. Impotent rage. I could just see him turning red, steam pouring out of his ears, “Ooooh!” spouting past his saliva-speckled lips. I thought, yes, but that showing up only 2–3 times a week at rather inconsistent occasions would be better, for he’d keep waiting for the next time, anxious and fearful, ready with a means to put me out of his misery. Which never occurred.

I’ve found a way to put this event into my book (The Constant Shell Game, as yet unpublished, as so many of my writings are not). The absurdity of it all. The parallel will be more than obvious to those in the know. Also, it will restore my sense of humor, which seems to have gotten lost in this particular writing.

Well. . .on to the adventure.

As I said to Yuki as we traversed the back roads and narrow byways to what was to become my new house, I was getting deeper and deeper into China. Certainly no foreigner would have bothered to go as deep into living areas as this; none would even consider actually living in such a place. I saw this as learning some more about China, things that most all foreigners are ignorant of–discounting that they are ignorant of China in the main to begin with. Most foreigners, most especially Americans, only see and wish to know the more prosperous side of life and the tourist attractions, believing these facets of China are “China” and become the experience of a lifetime. I, however, was going to discover what it was like living like the Chinese live. Once, though, for a couple weeks, I had lived in similar circumstances while spending New Year’s with a student’s family in a village outside of Jinhua 金华市, during the Southern Song Dynasty the chosen home of the government elite. So, there was some foreknowledge of what I was getting into. This time, I was not ill, not living through walking pneumonia which was, eventually, what sent me back to the States.

Off the not-so-wide back streets of Anyang there are smaller what might be called paved alleyways, though there were other less wide streets, which we’re not concerned with here. Off Dongnanying jie 东南营街 East South Road, is a smaller roadway, perhaps 2 ½ bicycles wide at its widest. There is an archway-tunnel entrance, under which, in the street, the construction workers slept over the noon break (2–3 hrs, standard). It would be easy, I found out, to run them over. Luckily, I was quick on my bike.

On the east wall of the tunnel is a sign and a further hand-written notice: Linfu jie 林府街, Forest Home Road. No trees. It bends as it goes along, finally ending in a cul de sac; there are a couple of other alleys and streets that are also dead ends leading to larger houses. But Linfu jie was where I was destined to live. This was old central Anyang so, probably, there once was a forest or woods here. “Now” the area was all built up, newer levels obvious via style.

I was both appalled and pleased at discovering this local hutong 胡同. I knew immediately this was real China, not the modern economic wonder most Americans expect, even though Fanfan had been taking me places off the beaten path, as far as foreigners are concerned. If we had any reason to go down these streets, we would only ogle and comment disparagingly. Very much as the British in India and Africa, Americans carried their culture and their attitudes with them wherever we go, never seeing the world of China but through the cultural prejudices of American middle class. We are so insulated, we are unaware of Chinese responses to us, especially those of us who can find nothing positive to say about this new world or its people. As odd as we find Chinese behavior at times, they find our behavior as odd. Even my behavior of getting on with the people and visiting and living in old town.

I got on so well with my students, paying attention to them and their student activities that I was invited into their culture and homes and learned a lot. Not to say I had no biases. I did. I just kept them to myself.

I could not believe that people lived, as a matter of course, in such horrible conditions. I could not understand it, even though I knew of parallel living conditions in America, had lived in poverty, had even squatted in abandoned buildings in order to live. However, since those days–early 20s, college days–I had taken on a more middle-class view of things. Not that I ever was middle-class. At least not above the lower end. Perhaps, though, I was better prepared than most as I’d just spent the prior 10 years involved in disability affairs and, indeed, for part of the time living the throw-away life given to the disabled. Grudgingly given to the disabled.

Along the east (right) wall of Linfu jie, after passing through its tunnelled entryway, were the entrances, through their own little tunnels, to the living areas–more than one house, more than one family, gathered about little courtyards or common areas. There were only one or two double-doored entrances to living areas on the west wall. I lived in #7. Quite a ways down the street. The entryway was paved; where it turned left concrete civilization ended: the ground there was pounded down by use and mossy-ish. Trees and bushes grew all about these houses, so the first courtyard was shady and green. This open courtyard must be passed through to get to the even narrower passageway that led to my courtyard, bounded by three houses. Old houses. Clay tile-roofed, white-washed brick or plastered concreted brick; or, like mine and the one right across the yard, brick with a concrete lower third. There is a large hole in this other small, out building-sized house’s door where the thin plywood type panel had gone missing. Must be cold in the winter. This courtyard was sans trees, seemingly older than the front area and most certainly much less well–cared for.

Once a long time ago, the narrow, between houses passage that led to this back living area was bricked over, cobbled; now it was a tumult of tsunami-tossed bricks sticking up into the non-sunshine, embedded in the hard, hard earth. I thought of staying in when it rains, as, though I do have boots to counter both the running water–a little watercourse rushes not necessarily down the middle–and the mud, it was impossible to hold an umbrella aloft through this back alley entryway. The rain water running down some of the neighborhood streets was less conducive to slopping along. How Chinese of me! Ha! The Chinese did not appear to go out in the rain. I used to tease my students that they were afraid of the rain.

Changing over

Those familiar with labelleotero are now here. Talesofthefloatingworld comes about from problems that would not fix.This is the fix for the lovely, incomparable and very numinous Minna vander Pfaltz, whom Jimsecor might call a Familiar. I occasionally let him mount essays and whatnot here and he tells me there will soon be an update on the ludicrous happenings in Lawrence, a town that fits Dunning-Kruger to a T. Truly an oddity considering KS’s governor, Sam Dale Brownback, a nobody til he married publishing money, played toady to Bush II and got hysterical over a mole on his back and apparently saw God. Not quite like seeing the Fairy King over a mushroom hood but certainly of the same fantastical nature. Jimsecor is extremely cynical and disgusted over Brownback’s harrowing encounter with death via mole, as he himself bled out in 1999. He does not talk about this much, only to say he got no enlightenment, which may be a kind of enlightenment nonetheless. I have followed Jimsecor since we first met across the country and into Europe and Russia, and thence to the Far East: Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong (which many Americans believe is China; it is not, though China’s governors want it to be for good capitalist reasons).

Along with this new blog site comes a new apt, albeit not really ours yet. Nevertheless, the promise is there and the money is rolling in, kind of like Sisyphus pushing his stone up the hill. It is on the first floor, given there is a ground floor, for which we are not totally thrilled as our wheelchaired friends cannot visit and I fret over his falling down the stairs (Jimsecor is a fall risk, managing 2-3 episodes/yr). But it is larger than the present dormitory type room and much more open and bright. Jimsecor will be able to set his office aside, in the second bedroom; I prefer to write on the kitchen table so I can yell at the cat for strewing my papers hither and yon as he scrambles over the polished oak surface in chase of. . .whatever it is cats see. We will have to line the balcony with something to keep the little g-kids from falling off.

Speaking of g-kids. . .Aurora, now 2, was born on Jimsecor’s birthday. As he has no family, she and her brothers and sisters have been a boon to him. Me, too, when he lets me get in the mix. There is a picture of her taking a bath. She cannot say her name, managing only “Rora.” Very headstrong, full of “No” and, though indulged, not spoiled by her grandpa. But we do not get to see them often enough. Isn’t that the way it is?

Jimsecor will be undergoing TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, in an attempt to gain some kind of control over his treatment resistant depression. Without such control, he is tossed about like a rat in a cage as his moods swing into and about his person. Before returning to the States in 2010, from China via a stop in Liverpool, his Bipolar I was not so disruptive. Since returning, he has spent half the time not writing, the publications coming right at the beginning of the 2 1/2 yr dry period. This is the last resort. Please, gods and goddesses, let it be successful! I will not abandon him as family, friends and lovers have; but living with an out of control Bipolar I is not rosy. I think, though, I handle it better than Zelda did F. Scott’s; however, Jimsecor’s not a raging alcoholic. If there is no resolution, we will be going to live in a “populated area,” either here in KS or in China, where he does have family: adopted girls. And students he is still in contact with.

“Populated area”: a ghost town has no people in it. A populated area has some. Very some. Matfield Green, KS has 49, a cowboy bar and a grocery, along with an artist’s retreat and a couple ranches on the National Historical Register. Linghu, Zhejiang, China has a main road of 1/2 mile and is the hometown of one of his students; her parents own THE grocery store. There is an old town along the polluted canal and out a ways from the “town” centre is Gu Jia Michelle’s grandparents’ house, where she was raised. Jimsecor would like to have indoor plumbing put in and move in; Gu Jia is somewhat resistant to the idea, believing he won’t be able to manage on his own with his (and my) slim Chinese ability. I wonder because Linghu is 45 minutes by furious bus over both paved and unpaved road from Huzhou, the nearest big town. I think the nearest town period. We both would like to move to Whorehouse Meadows, OR but it is not a town, just a beautiful spot of greenery in an otherwise arid area where, once, whores were housed in tents to keep the RR workers content.

And that’s about where we are at the moment, with me taking care of the mundanities of life and the editing and other business concerns, all of which frustrate the hell out of Jimsecor. I don’t mind. Jimsecor is my populated area.

The dishes await.