September 28, 2009
Much has happened since I wrote last！ In one of the previous entries, I mentioned having made contact with Joy – one of the women who stayed at our house in Kearney when they visited in 2008. Anyway, she and three of the others in that group invited us to dinner on Saturday, September 19. So we had a big van pick us up and Joy, Jewel, Sonny, and Juan were there! Because they are a little unsure of their English and of our Chinese, they had also invited Sue (our Chinese tutor) to come along. We went to a beautiful hotel down near the beach – it looked to be at least 5 star, and had a Mongolian motif. We went to a private dining room, and Joy and Jewel ordered a huge variety of traditional and exotic dishes. The food was very good, the ambience was great! We had three kinds of soup – cream of something spinach-like, mushroom, and sea slug (sea cucumber); we had various kinds of fish dishes, oysters, shrimp, various kinds of meats, and vegetables and garnishes, and so forth — too numerous to mention. We talked about the great times we had had in Kearney, at the Tumbleweed in Broken Bow, where they had enjoyed their first apple and peach pies, the John Deere dealership next to the Tumbleweed, where they climbed on tractors and other equipment, and the very cold snowy weather, and all the other things we had done in Kearney – including the steaks at Alley Rose and Grandpa’s. They had to explain to Sue that in Kearney (“the best steaks in the world!!!”) a steak is as big as a dinner plate and very thick – a concept that one has to experience to understand, I think! They all wanted to personally help us do something, so we had to promise to call one of them if we need anything! We learned that you have to be very careful if you mention anything that isn’t perfect. Everybody is determined to make it right. So, during dinner we without thinking mentioned that we were going to have to have our stove repaired because we can’t get the gas flame started. So, sure enough, when we got back to our place, all five of our hosts and translators marched up to our place to fix our stove. I’m sure they were discussing among themselves something like, “Americans, they don’t know anything! They probably forgot to turn on the gas.” So, they all gathered around as each tried to start our stove, and then finally it dawned on them that “hey, this thing is broken, and maybe we should stop messing with it before we blow the place up!” Well, Deb had a bunch of flower pots with dirt for flowers on the kitchen counter top – but no flowers, so she felt it necessary to explain that she was going to buy some flowers for the pots the next day. Big mistake!
Sunday morning our house was abuzz with Lulu waiting for the gas repair man to come fix our stove. When he didn’t arrive in time to suit her, she called her friend the maintenance guy at work. He was there in 5 minutes, and checked out the stove. He concluded that it was broken! So, he called his friend, we don’t know who he was, but in about ten minutes he showed up. Meanwhile, I had decided that since we were going to be waiting for stuff to happen, we might as well call and have ten gallons of water delivered. Our water guy is a student who does this on the side with his bicycle. He usually gets over within 15 minutes with two carboys of water and he did this time, too, but while that was happening, I was also trying to see what the two stove repair guys were determining about the stove, and while that was happening, I got a call from Joy, who said that she and her daughter were bringing us a flower. I said “great,! thanks!” She said they would be right over. So, back to the stove: The new guy eventually took off the knobs and just used his fingers to turn the gas on. That was the trick! The stove happily sprang into life and burned steadily; however, Mr. new guy did not like the quality of the flame, so he adjusted something down under the stove to get a hotter (bluer) flame, and then told Lulu it would cost ten yuan for the parts to fix it. She asked if I wanted them to fix it, and of course I said “yes!” Just then the door opened and there was Joy and her high school daughter, Helen, with a big potted plant they had carried it who knows how far and up the stairs to our house. It’s a big green plant, and it is now in our living room. We visited and presently, the Maintenance guy that is Lulu’s friend (and ours now) was back with the parts to fix the stove, which were actually two new knobs. He put them on and now we are “cooking with gas!” He would accept no gratuity or pay – only the 10 kuai for the knobs, and happily departed, but not before I asked him to explain the apparatus that is our radiator in the bathroom. It has water connections going to and from our hot water heater, and I had determined that it must be a way to get heat in the bathroom if the steam isn’t on. So, he looked it over and then told Lulu, that I had it backwards. It is a way to use the building steam to heat the water in the water heater in winter to save electricity! I am excited about that and I have a story a little later about my own efforts to save on electricity – although we have no idea how much we are using yet. So, he finally departed, and, Oh yes, during all this, the water guy came with the water and so, we had drinking water, and a working stove, and a big potted plant. Joy and her daughter had to hurry off to a music lesson or something, so naturally, Lulu and we decided it was time to go try out the Korean noodle shop over by Li Qun department store. So, we did, and on returning we had the rest of the day to work on classes and Chinese!
One thing we did with a portion of the day was to ride down to the beach to eat dinner there. We randomly picked a place where we could eat on the sidewalk with a view of the beach. There was just one little problem – ordering. No pictures in the menu! Panic City! The waitress asked us by motions to go over to the aquaria and select our dinner. So, we decided on some big shrimp – except they weren’t shrimp as we know them. They were big, had hard shells with sharp little edges and as we looked at the huge plate (24 or so), we realized that they may not actually be shrimp. They looked more like hellgrammites – that are used as fishing bait, except for their large size, than anything I have seen before. They tasted good, but difficult to get at the meat. One more thing, shrimp meat gets thinner and more pointed toward the tail, these got larger there. See photos! We also had cabbage and mi fan (rice) – and it was actually cabbage, not bok choy.
Chinese class, much to our alarm is less and less comprehensible (not the stuff we are studying, the teacher is going slowly and repeating and so forth). It is less comprehensible because she assumes that we now have enough vocabulary to understand rather complex (to us) Chinese sentences and we are always lost. L Makes us proud to be such fine representatives of the good old USA. After Chinese class on Tuesday, we decided to drop it. It was a sad, very emotional decision for me, but it was freedom for Deb. So,, now we really are dependent on Sue to teach and coach us. I hope she can resist slitting her wrists!
Monday night or Tuesday, I wrote Pian – one of the Weihai people we have known a long time, and told her we are now in Weihai. She was bummed that we had been here for three weeks without letting her know, so she had to do something to help us. Once again, I mentioned something that she immediately decided she could help with. I said that the only thing we haven’t found that we really need is ink cartridges for the printer. So, she said we were going shopping on Wednesday morning (and since we had dropped the Chinese class, this wasn’t a problem for us!)
Wednesday morning at 8:30: Pian picked us up at the front gate of our apartment, and we went shopping – across town to a place we hadn’t seen before. Basically, it is a huge pedestrian mall with all sorts of shops. We went first to the HP store where I could buy ink cartridges and printer paper. We explored and bought the needed items, and then checked out the rest of the place. Pian took us to a clothing store (I don’t know if it was random or for a purpose, but they had some very nice leather jackets in there, and I would have bought one if they had had my size. They had one that was just a little too small, and one a lot too big (imagine that!), but not the size in between. So, I lucked out for now (Pian will look under every rock and pebble in Weihai until she finds my size in something like what I was looking at. She is a professional shopper! Well, here’s the cool thing about this place. The clothing, cosmetics, and other types of stores are on the ground level, and you must cross a little bridge to get to them from the street. Down below in a open air basement-type street is the meat and fish market. Talk about fresh. The fish, shell fish, eels, and crabs, shrimp, are all alive and in aquaria – hundreds or thousands of them. They also have fresh poultry and probably beef or pork as well. Someone was dispatching a chicken with a cleaver while we watched from the bridge above. See photos of the area!
It was a really cool place – a shopping mall near the ocean with mountains all around! After we abandoned the leather jacket possibility, we went to the big grocery store in Weihai — JiaJiaYue. Our mission for the day was to procure for the Murray household, some rust removing toilet bowl cleaner, laundry baskets, ground coffee, and a plug-in timer that I could connect our to water heater so that it does not keep heating water all day and night. I asked Pian about the rust remover and she reported that “we don’t have that in China. We just leave the rust alone.” She had the same point of view about the timer. I observed that all that stuff comes from China anyway, but she said, “we don’t get all that stuff we sell to you”. And I think she probably thought, “and we don’t need it!” Anyway, I needed a battery (since I had been given a cool little halogen bike light when I bought the printer ink.) so, as I looked around the electrical area, I discovered the timers that I needed. I think it blew Pian’s mind! So, now we are working our way through the bathroom supplies (of the kind like mats for the floor and stuff like that), and Pian said that the clerk wanted to sell me a drastically reduced electronic bathroom scale. Well, since the only scale I have had access to so far in Weihai was in the doctor’s office and you know what that means, and it was a good price for an electronic digital scale, I asked to try it out. The clerk now had a real issue. She wanted me to buy the thing, but she didn’t want me to scratch it or otherwise detract from its value, so she went and got some plastic wrapping material that I could stand on while trying out the scale. By now most of the hundreds of patrons had gathered around to see this momentous event. I’m sure there was a pool established on “how much does this guy actually weigh?” ! Anyway, as I stepped up on the scale, there were people on tiptoes, necks twisted – whatever it took to get the information on the big, ugly American. Deb has furnished a sketch – not very flattering to me, I’m afraid, but see below. So, we bought the scales, and now all the clerks want to help out the bozo who just weighed himself in public. One suggested that I should only weigh in the morning before breakfast and before putting on clothes — like, I would never have thought of that!!! Another scurried off to find measuring spoons, which up to this point, we had batted zero on finding. Others were at this point wanting to risk all their hard-earned wager winnings on how old I am. So, Pian told me what they were asking, and I said to them all, “wo liu shi liu sui.”(I am 66 years old). And that received a solid round of gasps. I don’t know whether the gasps meant “Wow!, that dude is really old.” Or “Wow! How can someone so old look that bad?” (This latter one is Deb’s theory) or and my personal favorite, “Wow, he looks so much younger than that!” we’ll never know – thankfully!
Deb’s depiction of me buying a bathroom scale with audience!
Wednesday night (September 23), we went straight from Deb’s class to dinner at the Korean restaurant I have previously described and had a wonderful meal — a large fried fish, fried tufo, fried chicken wings, and bok choy. We and the waitresses had great fun in communicating and selecting something really good. It was. I think I will have some pictures.
Then we peddled our little selves back to the library where we attended a big choral concert. Every college or group on campus who wants to has a chorus, and each one sings a song they have developed to celebrate the beginning of a new school year. Some were outstanding; some were a little closer to the Burgaw High School Glee Club when I was senior – which was noted in the Pender Chronicle for being terribly off key, a subtle hint that we had disappointed the county seat. I was a member of that august outfit, so I remember it well, but I digress. The choruses here were really good, there were tens of thousands of people in the audience enthusiastically enjoying all the singing while each group did their best. The program lasted over three hours, but is was so nice, we enjoyed it very much. I have photos of every group, but I’ll show just a couple. The group that won the competition was the students and faculty in translation and interpretation, and they sang “We are the World,” with verses in Chinese and in English. The students in the crowd around us were very enthusiastic about their performance. The final group was not in the competition because they were the faculty from the music department, and they were unbelievably good. We were told that they will go to Beijing to sing on National Day at the Cube!
Lulu, Chorus performer! and One example of the many choruses that performed
The concert was great from another perspective: Deb and I were sitting and enjoying the music, and soon some students came over to speak with us because they wanted to know where we were from – i.e., “you aren’t from China, clearly, but we don’t know whether you are from the US, Germany, Russia, or UK.” Anyway, we had a very pleasant chat with them between performances.
On Saturday, we had the day free for our work until 6:00 PM, when Pian picked us up for dinner. She and Zoe wanted to have us and Lulu go to dinner that evening. The party was a big one in a hot pot restaurant – which is where the staff members bring the stuff you ordered raw, and you cook it in the hot pot at the table. Typically, and this one was this way, the hot pot has a spicy (very, very) and a mild side. So you can choose how you want the food. We have some photos. Pian and Zoe ordered lamb, beef, pork – at least two kinds of meat each, as well as oysters, and shrimp. We also had a huge platter of green veggies and a platter of sliced sweet potato. Everything was delicious and I felt overstuffed for 20 hours after we finished that meal. We ate and visited for 3 or 4 hours – lots of hearty laughter and more serious talk.
Remember how I mentioned that we have to learn to be careful what we ask about? Well, this kicked in again at the dinner. When we were shopping with Pian earlier in the wee k, I ask her where I would go to see a dermatologist (because my sister, Helen, had noticed a little dark spot beside my nose when we talking on Skype). So, Pian told Zoe, who called Lulu to get me to a dermatologist. At dinner it was decided that I should go to the dermatologist the next morning at the Navy dermatology hospital. I was told that it is famous in China as one of the top dermatology clinics. So, next thing I know, a call was made to see if I could see the doctor the next day, and I could if we could be there at 8:00 AM the next day! I said I could so we agreed to meet at the front gate of the apartment. We took a cab to the hospital, which turned out to be a part of a huge hospital down at the water front of downtown. So, we went in and were shortly ushered into the examination room, and a older woman, who apparently is chief of dermatology was there and she examined me, proclaimed that the spot on my face was nothing serious, but that the redness that looks like eczema that I perpetually have on both sides of my nose and eyebrows could use attention and prescribed Triamcinolone acetate and Econazole nitrate cream. The head nurse then took us down the hall to a pharmacy, where the pharmacist filled the prescription immediately, and we were done. Other than taxi fare of $2.50 each way, the entire visit cost me exactly $0.00, and I couldn’t get anyone to take any money! I was dazed. I mean, I didn’t expect it to cost a huge amount, but I thought I would have to pay something so I had taken about ¥700.
Today (Monday). When I arrived at my class, all the students yelled out Happy Autumn Festival, and they gave me a moon cake gift, consisting of ten different moon cakes with different wishes of good fortune associated with each.