We’ve had a pretty quiet week – surprisingly busy, but no blockbuster events.
Monday. I finally managed to buy airline tickets for us to go to Chengdu next week. I promised the kids we’d go to the Wolong Panda Research Center, where they actually have baby pandas you can hold (for a fee – I mean, for a “donation!”). Buying airline tickets shouldn’t be that hard, but it can be complicated here. The easy part – there’s a travel company with an English website, and they deliver tickets for free. The hard part – arranging payment and telling them where to find us to deliver the tickets.
You can pay cash, but that means trips to the bank over consecutive days to pull out 2,000 yuan at a time to amass enough money, or changing money, which entails looong lines at the bank. Or you can pay by credit card – that should be easy, right? Wrong! I decided to try the credit card payment this time. First, it can’t be done on the website, it has to be done over the phone. No problem, a very nice gentleman speaking excellent English took down my information. But it seems you have to physically sign a “Letter of Authorization” to charge the credit card and send it to them. No problem, they faxed it to me and I just needed to fax it back. PROBLEM! The fax number is not toll-free; it’s a long-distance call to Beijing. My office phone/fax doesn’t allow long-distance calls. So I go down the hill to the store to buy a phone card, and then back up the hill to the law school. Now, how hard can it be to figure out the phone card? Yes, it’s all in Chinese, but I can see I’m supposed to dial one number, key in two other numbers, and then put in the phone number. Easy, right? Not so fast – it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, I can’t complete the call. And I certainly can’t understand the recorded voice on the phone. I wander down the hall to find someone to help, and find an English-speaking student. It seems I’m supposed to also key in the number I’m calling from. Where does it say that on the card? It doesn’t! Still, with the student’s help the fax is sent.
They promise to deliver the tickets between 5 and 6 p.m. At 6 p.m., the phone calls start – a Chinese voice saying something incomprehensible, me replying that I don’t speak Chinese. The caller hangs up. A few minutes later, the same caller, more Chinese, hangs up. Last time this happened, I had to take my cell phone downstairs to the porter to have him talk to the caller, but this one keeps hanging up before I can do that! But he found me anyway – the tickets were delivered with only 3 hang-up phone calls and no trips downstairs!
It was good timing for the ticket delivery, because we were meeting an out-of-town colleague for dinner at 6. Trish is a law professor and a Fulbrighter at Wuhan University, and she came to give a speech at the law school here. The law school arranged for her and her husband, Eric, to stay at our guesthouse. (When I told Zoe that Trish and Eric were coming and staying at the guesthouse, she excitedly asked if she and Maya could spend the night with them. This struck me as a trifle odd – they only met Trish and Eric once at orientation in Guangzhou, and I hadn’t thought they’d made such a deep impression on the girls. But later I heard Zoe explain to Maya that Trish and Eric were only staying one night (true) because they had to return to America to take care of our house. Ohhhh, she thought I meant Cousin Aaron and ERICA, who are staying in our house while we’re gone!) We had a nice dinner, and Trish and Eric’s surprise over each dish reminded me of how regional Chinese food is. The food they get in Hubei Province is very different from what is served here (they said just about everything in Wuhan comes swimming in oil).
Tuesday. I taught my class Tuesday morning, so could not attend Trish’s lecture, but the Vice-Dean included me in the lunch afterwards. Class went well; we started talking about the Fourth Amendment limitations on police searches. When we talked about the requirement of warrants before many searches, I asked if the Chinese system required warrants and was a bit surprised when they assured me that it did. But, I learned, warrants are issued by the police or the prosecutor, not a judge. So it seems warrants here are more akin to subpoenas.
Lunch was nice, at the restaurant in the Yifu Building near our apartment. But the most exciting thing about it was that the Vice-Dean actually drove us there from the law school. Ahhh, a ride in an air-conditioned car, instead of a 40-minute walk in the midday heat! Doesn’t take much to make me happy . . . .
Wednesday. I decided to take the bus to Metro, a store akin to Wal-Mart, but German-owned instead of American-owned. Expats rave about it because it has imported food items like cheese, but it is very far from us – about an hour’s ride by bus, so we haven’t bothered to go. I went mostly out of curiosity, but picked up a few items of clothing for the girls and some foodstuffs. Remember I said that if you buy imports it can get expensive? I bought a package of tri-color rotini pasta for 29 yuan – about $4. Not bad, but I can buy a package of Chinese noodles that will provide 8 meals for 3.2 yuan – only 40 cents. I also bought a small jar of spaghetti sauce for 39 yuan ($5) and a small package of grated parmesan cheese for only 10 yuan ($1.30). The girls were excited to have “Italian” food for dinner for a change. And I can get one more meal out of the ingredients. Still, $10.30 for two meals is pretty expensive for us these days!
And after dinner, the girls put on a fashion show with the new purchases – which was when I realized that the shirt I bought Zoe had a broken zipper. Soooooo . . .
Thursday. Another hour trip to Metro to exchange the blouse, and an hour trip home again. Sigh. The exchange was simpler than I thought it would be – I only had to talk to five different people and fill out two different forms!
I’m still teaching English in Zoe’s and Maya’s classes each week, and because of scheduling conflicts I ended up doing them back-to-back on Thursday afternoon. The kids are learning amazingly quickly, and we’ve progressed through greetings, colors, fruits, parts of the body, counting, and now articles of clothing (they giggled like crazy when I held up a dress in front of a boy). We’re also saying “I like to eat” and then adding our fruit words. Our song list includes Twinkle, Twinkle; Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes; I Like to Eat Apples & Bananas; If You’re Happy and You Know It; and then my made-up Hello, Hello, How Are You? song. We added plurals Thursday, but I think that’s beyond Maya’s class. Zoe’s class seemed to get it, though, and I had them all saying, “One shoe, two shoessssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. One girl, two girlsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. One eye, two eyessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.” I’m having a ball doing it, but it’s exhausting — I don’t know how kindergarten teachers do it all day!
Friday. Remember when I spoke to a History Department class – History of American Intellectual Thought? Well, the professor hosted a luncheon today to thank me, and most of the students from the seminar came. It was great fun talking to them again, and they had great questions again. One student told a sad story of a friend of hers who caused two deaths in a drunk driving incident, and she wondered what would happen in America. More interesting to me was what would happen here – if he pays compensation to the victim’s family, he can avoid a criminal conviction and jail time. They were all incredulous that there are two systems, criminal and civil, in American law, and that both would deal with the accident. They tell me that criminal law is seen very much like tort law, designed to vindicate the injury of the victim not the interests of the state. The professor was very passionate about the legal system, saying that in China there is no justice. He asked me if I had read the Chinese Constitution, and when I told him I had he asked what I thought of it. I told him I thought it was a beautiful document, but completely meaningless since no citizen could sue to enforce it. He agreed, saying again that there’s no justice in China. He also said that crime is rampant in China. I said I was shocked to hear it, since I feel so much safer here than in America, but he insisted that there are murders and stabbings and robberies every day in Xiamen in the areas where the “lower classes” live. I evinced surprise, saying I thought China was a classless society, and everyone laughed.
The restaurant specialized in Sichuan food, which is much spicier than food in Xiamen. I think the professor asked them to tone it down for me, though, because it wasn’t very hot at all. It was very tasty, though. When I arrived at the restaurant, he asked me if there was anything I wouldn’t eat, and I said no. He asked, very surprised, “Rabbit? You’d eat rabbit?” Yes, I said, my mother used to cook rabbit with a very nice wine gravy – a French dish. “Frog? You’d eat frog?” Sure, why not? We get this reaction all the time – Americans have quite the reputation as timid eaters here in China.
I said I was glad to try Sichuan food before going there next week (Chengdu is in Sichuan Province), and we talked travel for a while. He said he had not taken his kids to Beijing to climb the Great Wall yet, that he wanted to wait until his youngest was old enough to walk a mile on his own so he didn’t end up carrying him the whole time. I asked how old his youngest is, and he’s 5 and a half! Amazing! I guarantee Maya would climb every step of the Great Wall on her own.
The professor had one of his students meet me at my apartment and walk me to the restaurant, not far away at all, and she insisted on walking me back even though I said I knew perfectly well the way. She fielded three or four phone calls along the way, and apologized, saying she was the vice president of the Student Union and was in charge of a concert this evening. The girls and I had noticed the stage in the park as we walked to school this morning. The student told me it was a very famous singer who was coming to perform, and that his concert would be broadcast live on Xiamen radio. So the girls and I decided to check it out this evening.
The concert started 40 minutes late – I wonder how that plays out when it’s being broadcast? And after the first song the girls were ready to go! They liked the pre-concert activity, where the stage managers were checking the fog machine, the bubble machine, the flame machine (cheesy, huh?!), but weren’t too excited by the music. I can’t blame them – I thought the singer was pretty bad and the staged stuff was pretty tame. I thought it was funny, though, that this rock concert for college students started off with a speech by a college administrator in shirt and tie!
Well, that’s our week. If you made it this far, remember that I did warn you that nothing exciting had happened this week. Imagine, I can write over 35 inches about nothing!