October 7, 2009
The observatory (see photos). We were invited to go up to the secondary observatory on campus on Tuesday night, September 29. It was a good night for viewing the moon and Jupiter because they were closely conjunct. Well, the first issue is how to get there. Lulu said it isn’t very steep to climb (but about a mile from the International office). I knew that was a relative statement, and that even if it weren’t steep for Lulu (turned out that wasn’t true either!), it would be a killer for Deb (due to her painful hip) and me. So, we decided to take a cab. We employed Sue, our Chinese tutor to make certain that there were no failures of communication, and headed out. Sue brought her friend, Mandy, so we had a cab full as we drove past the trudgers (everyone except our taxi). All went well until we got to the locked gate (which was still a half mile (maybe a km) from the actual observatory. The taxi driver was, shall we say, less than thrilled to have to stop and wait. Sue called Lulu, who called the guys up at the observatory to ask someone to open the gate. Deb insisted that she could walk the remainder of the way up, but I demanded that she not try that. I told Sue to tell the taxi driver we would give him extra fare to wait. So, pretty soon the trudgers met us and milled around for a while (glad to have an excuse to stop trudging for a moment, I’m sure.) Anyway I convinced them to trudge on, and we would get there presently if someone opened the gate, and shortly that happened. Once again we passed the trudgers, now huffing and puffing; and the car seemed to be straining to pull us up the “gentle hill.” But we finally got up there, and I paid double, so the driver seemed almost human again. While we waited for trudgers, we got a great view of a portion of Weihai from up high. Very impressive. At the time, I thought we were seeing all of Weihai, but I was grossly mistaken on that, as I have been on so many other points.
Observatories on the crest of the mountain behind library. View of a section of Weihai from mountain
Finally we were all at the observatory, and we started the orientation. SDUW has the largest telescope owned by any university in China, though we didn’t get to see it. It is in the research observatory a short distance away. The telescope we used was a 30 cm refractor, fitted with a very low power ocular. We are able to view the moon and then later Jupiter. Lulu and the Chinese students were very excited to get to look through the telescope, and I am always thrilled by the view. Well, it developed that everyone wasn’t there yet. It seems that one of the foreign teachers had invited her entire class without checking to see if there might be capacity for that many. There wasn’t. When all these freshmen, got into the place they were beyond excited and also filling every spot available. So, after the observatory crew shifted the short distance to view Jupiter, my group took our look, and enjoyed one view in which to could see two of the inner moons, and a broader view in which we could see five or six. So, Lulu, poor thing, who had been trying to deal with the surplus of people, had not had her chance to view Jupiter. When she looked, she said she couldn’t see anything. I looked and she was correct, so I called to the grad student who was setting up the telescope, and said, “Houston, we have a problem. We’ve lost Jupiter.” Lulu cracked up, and said, “Yes, we need the Americans to come save the world again!” Well, it wasn’t easy to recover Jupiter, because one of the surplus people had played around with the computer, not realizing that it was the system that guided the telescope. So, I gather that eventually, they recovered and people got to see Jupiter; however, the Moli’s (Murray’s) and friends called a taxi to come up and get us and return us to our house!
Students at the observatory
Wednesday, September 30. I have mentioned a time or two that Lulu is nuts over KFC. She told us when we went to the KFC downtown that a new KFC would be built nearer the university – what a great day that will be!!! OK, so that was about September 15. On about September 17, we were going someplace along the large street between our house and SDUW, Wen Hua Xi Lu (culture road, west), and behold, in a store front, was a sign that obviously meant, “future home of KFC.” A couple of days later, we rode past it and there were scaffolding and construction curtains and men working. Then on the evening of September 30, it was open for business all bright and shiny new!!!! We later learned that KFC had its grand opening on National Day – October 1. Lulu was there, of course, and she said it was very crowded! We have noticed in this and other construction projects that the job is done very quickly.
Thursday. National Day. July 4 and Thanksgiving together! Deb and I stayed at home and watched all the events on TV all day and night, assuming that everything would be closed on National Day (ND). All I can say is that it was “over the top!” This was the 60th anniversary of the day that PR China proclaimed itself a country, the New China, and since New China is in the best shape of its existence, this was a really big deal. I won’t even try to describe that spectacular nature of the goings on. They simply are beyond description.
What I want to try to capture is the human emotion of the events. As I’ll explain later, we had an amazing set of opportunities to visit with people from a variety of walks of life during the past week, and one common theme is the combination of pride, humility, gratitude, and optimism (strange brew, I know!) that everyone expresses. People our age and older have the deepest emotions for they have seen and experienced the most. Zoe’s mother is about 13 months older than I am, and she had tears of joy and gratitude flowing on ND. Zoe said that she was lecturing the younger family members about honoring the Party (Communist Party) for all the wonderful blessings it has brought for the average person and that they should remember to never do anything to bring disrespect to the country or the Party. She also admonished some family members who have the habit of leaving the water running while washing hands to “save water for our wonderful motherland, and use a pan to wash the hands, so that the waste water can be used to water a plant or for some other useful purpose.” I was very touched by this, and it has helped me be more conscientious about avoiding wastefulness.
Not only have these been insightful days for us, but we have had (we assume by random events) absolutely rare chances to discuss what people think and feel about their country, the USA, and their hopes and dreams for future. We are getting to know a growing set of high school students who are anxious to learn what they can about the US from us and also to be helpful to us. You will pick up this theme as I describe events that happened since ND.
Friday. A very quiet day. We went into work, but many people were away. So, we thought that we might have a very quiet weekend. However, just as that was beginning to seem likely, Zoe called. She wanted for us to have Mid-Autumn Festival dinner with her family. This is rather like Thanksgiving dinner to Americans – a time to be with family, remember the things we are grateful for, and enjoy a huge meal. We were deeply honored to be asked to share such an important time with them.
Friday evening, we rode down to the beach. It was beyond gorgeous. I took too many pictures to share all, but here are some! We had dinner at a restaurant near the beach.
Sunset at Golden Bay beach
Saturday. During the morning and afternoon, Deb and I worked at home. At 5:30 Zoe picked us up in her car to go to her house for dinner. She and her husband, Leo, live in a three bedroom apartment in the off-campus faculty housing. Their son is away studying energy management in Sweden. The kitchen is where the dining table (same size as ours) normally stands, but there were too many people and too little space, so it was in the living room for this evening. Leo and Zoe’s mom prepared a huge meal in the little kitchen using three woks, a pressure cooker, a steamer, and a microwave. So, we had Zoe, her mom, Leo, and a niece (student at Yantai University) and a nephew (11th grader at a big High school in Weihai – wait for the full info later!), along with Deb and me – around a table that was 30 inches wide and 45 inches in length. Each of us had a saucer-sized plate, a small bowl, chop sticks, porcelain spoon, a small glass, and tea cup. In addition, we had three platters of jiaozi (dumplings), a whole big fish (tilapia), a big heaping platter of small and delicious clams, corn kernels steamed with peppers and onions and other things I couldn’t recognize, ox tail stew, fungus and onion dish – really good, freshly (pan) roasted spicy peanuts – very, very good, barbequed chicken wings coated with a sweet sauce, thinly sliced beef in gravy, boiled shrimp, shrimp chips (these are round, very thing dried chips, which are then fried in oil producing a puffed up crisp chip (surprisingly good, a little like pork rind you buy in the snack bags). Then they decided that we needed fried jiaozi’s, so, mom went and fried some up for us. (See photos.) Everything except the shrimp chips and corn was made from scratch! For dessert, we had (you guessed it!) Moon Cakes, fresh fruit – amazing assortment. We had dishes piled on dishes and someone would regularly run to the kitchen to cycle in something new.
It was a delicious meal! It was an honor to share it with the family and we thoroughly enjoyed the time we had. Deb picked up pointers on recipes and cooking tips. The conversation was free and easy, with the two younger folk translating and explaining. Zoe wanted to take us shopping, but we begged off until Tuesday so we could work on our classes. I asked about the possibility of seeing Weihai’s large windmill farm, and so it was decided that we would go shopping and sight-seeing on Tuesday.
Of course, we left with a big box of moon cake!! Jason also gave us a handmade and hand-painted fan:
Sunday. A day for restful relaxation, and class preparation – in theory…
At 6:45 AM, we were awakened by an incredibly loud noise outside our window. It was the greatest bunch of firecrackers you every heard aside from a professional fireworks display, and each set lasts for five minutes or more! A new bunch went off about every half hour all through the morning. These were so loud that the percussion caused theft alarms to be triggered in many cars in the parking areas! Over and over again. This has been pretty much the pattern ever since, so in my quest for accumulating knowledge, I have consulted with many folks about this. Apparently, it is quite typical to have weddings at very early hours in the morning – so, no one has to miss work. I guess missing sleep isn’t so bad as long as you don’t have to miss work!
The highlight of Deb’s day was observation of one of our neighbors dispatching a chicken in the yard below. She shrieked, and when I looked, I saw the still jerking bird being plucked – right there in the middle of millions of firecracker remnants.
We cleaned up the house and did such chores, then worked on class. Deb decided she needed to go to the grocery store and drop off laundry, etc. So, while she was gone, I was diligently working on my class for Monday. But… My cell phone rang, and a shy young female voice asked if I was Finnie. I admitted that I was, and she said her name was Helen, and she said that she was calling for Miss (someone, I couldn’t catch, so let’s say, “X”), and Miss X wanted us to come to dinner at 6:30 (it was 4:00 PM at the time.) I was scanning my memory banks for a Helen. I knew that we had met a Helen at some point, but that is all I got, so I thought it might be one of Deb’s students, so I begged for her to let me call Deb to “see if we are free this evening.” Helen sounded as though that concept was stripping her gears, but I told her I would call right back. I called Deb and Deb was sure it wasn’t her student. But we decided that it must be one of the International Student Association (SICA) students, so we thought we really should agree to go. So, I called Helen back and told her we would be happy to go. She seemed ecstatic and said that Miss Joy and Miss Gertie would pick us up at our door at 6:30 because she (Helen) had a piano class until then. I then knew who Helen was. Miss Joy’s daughter. Remember one or two Sunday’s before this, Joy and Helen lugged a big flower pot with dirt and flower over to our place while we were getting fresh supply of bottled water and our stove fixed? That Helen! So, by the time we got everything put away and cleaned up a bit, they were here. By the way, Gertie was the second SDUW faculty member to go to Kearney
So, it turns out that Joy and Gertie had contracted with a driver and van to take the whole crowd to a restaurant. They took us a very nice restaurant in the University district and we had another huge meal. I cannot remember anything about the meal. It was delicious, I know, but we have eaten so many such meals with so much food that if it isn’t written down, there is no way to remember. We were joined by Gertie’s son, Martin, and Helen. We had wonderful conversation, and a delicious meal.
Monday was uneventful, other than firecrackers outside the window starting at 6:45AM.
I took my class some of the moon cake they had given me the week before. Deb had Chinese class. For supper, Deb made egg fu yong (which no Mandarin-speaking Chinese has ever heard of). It is one of Deb’s favorite American Chinese dishes, and it was quite good. That evening, I got more than one lesson plan ahead in my class for the first time! Deb is at about the same situation, although she is in business where “just in time” is good, the way of life. I, a mere biologist, am not too comfortable with shaving it that close!
Tuesday. Firecrackers at 6:45. I had my Chinese class in the morning. I am proud to announce that I now have the vocabulary of a frog – I can croak out a word or two. But, hey! That’s progress. Deb and I had our usual lunch of roujiamo and fruit, and I discovered that they have Coke zero in the little grocery on campus where I buy the roujiamo. I still get instant service. As soon as the lady behind the counter sees me, she lifts two fingers, and I nod, “yes” and she already has our lunch made up, she hands it over through several rows of students and takes my library card and swipes it. All in 5 seconds or less, and all with smiles and good nature. Jumping ahead slightly, today, I bought some more grapes, and one of the fruit guys in that little grocery said something barely audible, and normally it would have zipped past me, but this time I knew what he said, “Ni shi na guo ren? As I was paying for the grapes, I looked up at him and said mei guo, to which he nodded and others seemed to say to him, “Mei guo ren!, are you blind?” All that is: he said, “What country are you from?” I said, “America,” and the others said “American!” Thank you, Sue. I am learning Chinese, thanks to you!
Then also, today, I was working on my bike near the door to our building, and a young Korean man stopped and watched. Finally, he said something like “where are you from?” I said, “U.S., Texas.” He said “Texas!” Then he looked like I do so much of the time, he couldn’t think of anything else that he knew how to say in English. So, he got out his electronic dictionary and typed in something and showed it me. It said he wanted to make friends. So, I shook his hand and said, “great! Let’s be friends.” At that point, I shifted to my tiny Chinese vocabulary, which seems to be about the same size as his, so we continued in Chinese, with a little English sprinkled in! I promised to talk more with him. We said, “zai jian” to each other – see you later!
Anyway, back to Tuesday. We finished lunch and figured we would have a three or four hour outing with Zoe and her nephew, Jason. They arrived at 2:00. It was Jason, Zoe, and Jason’s mom, Linda, who is Zoe’s cousin and who was driving her Honda. The first stop on our sight-seeking trip was at a huge Christian church that Jason (and maybe his family) attend – although some of his family attend a small community church near their house. They didn’t have any concept of what denomination it is. (They seem to think that Christian is Christian!)
After this side trip, we went quite a long way to see the Windmill electricity generators. See pictures. We drove through these things for 45 minutes at a high rate of speed – sometimes as fast as 45 mph, I’m guessing. Anyway, the windmill farm is a huge investment. Each generator costs¥14,000,000 or about $2,000,000. I counted 200 in about ¼ of the distance, so I’m guessing there were between 500 and 1000 of them. They produce enough electricity to serve all of Weihai’s residential requirements. They are along the coast line that is undeveloped – on purpose to protect the marine culture or marine farming. This is the most beautiful place you can imagine, beautiful sea coast and only fisherman’s houses (grass thatched roofs and all!
As we headed back into Weihai, I got an emergency call from Lulu. A film company needed an American for a marketing film they are doing for the City of Weihai. Lulu said she and Xifeng thought I should do it if I were willing, so I said of course I would. When. Wednesday AM at 8:00. More on this later. Remember assumptions??
Linda drove through beautiful beach front residential areas, and we stopped a couple of times for photos. Once in downtown, we went to a bike shop so that we could buy safety headlights for our bikes, So, just as we were fixing to ask Zoe if they could go to dinner with us, Zoe said that Linda had invited us to dinner, so she had the first position as host for a dinner. So, our desire to offer dinner struck out!
Linda drove through the business district and up to a very nice hotel with a great a view of the harbor. We went in and were escorted to a private dining room, as usual, that was very nice and the view of the harbor was spectacular. We seemed to be waiting for something, as the appetizer round was just sitting there. Zoe decided it would be great for us to try corn juice as a beverage for the meal – in addition to tea of course. So we toasted each other with corn juice for a while. Corn juice is just that — freshly prepared corn that has been juiced. While I doubt that it knocks orange juice out of its position for a while, it wasn’t a bad tasting drink, and glasses were topped off every time you took a drink. Presently, we became aware of the reason we were waiting. Another niece arrived to join us for dinner. She is a high schooler, also, but she is struggling with English, so, I guess this was an immersion in English session for her. We had wonderful foods (see photos), starting with sushi and including every creature that crawls, flies, swims, or walks, I think! We even had shrimp and pasha (the weird shrimp-like things I described in detail last time. Tiny sea snails were a big hit. You fish them out with a tooth pick! The first soup was sea cucumber, and the second was a rice congee. So, finally it was evident that everyone was full, and yet no watermelon! (We have come to understand that a serving of watermelon triangles is the last item to be served, so you are done.) We just continued our conversation. After a while, Linda’s husband, Mr. Jones arrived with great fanfare, bringing fresh live crabs in refrigerator dishes. After greetings, Zoe asked if I would like to eat some live crabs with Mr. Jones. I assumed it was a challenge of some sort, so I said, “If he eats them, I will, too.” So we sat down for more conversation and more toasts.
Mr. Jones is a significant official of the Weihai Municipal Government. We talked about what Weihai is doing in economic development, pollution control, green energy, and so forth. It was a delightful conversation – friendly and open, and he seemed to want our impressions of various things, which we offered when asked. While Deb was talking with them about her courses, which were of great interest to Mr. Jones, she mentioned her interest in inviting a local entrepreneur who had started as an uneducated worker and had developed a huge business. Mr. Zones, said, “ I know that man. He is a nice guy.” Then he suggested that she ask the man who started the largest grocery chain in Weihai to go to her class. So, he promised to help set that up!
Meanwhile, I was having a side conversation with Jason about college students in America and American teenagers. He said that in China, parents and the government did not support high school kids having boyfriends or girlfriends because it interferes with study and concentration (you think??)! He watched every episode of “Friends,” once his parents allowed him to rent them. So he talked about that. This was interesting because he is obviously a “rich kid” with all the advantages that rich kids have, but he has to knuckle down to really hard work until he goes to college, so I think he is thinking “when I go to college, it’s going to be so great. I won’t have to work so hard and I can eat snacks and hamburgers, and I can have have a girlfriend.”
Finally the crabs arrived, but they weren’t live anymore. They had been steamed and we thoroughly enjoyed them. Jason showed me how to get at all the crab meat, and they were wonderful. So, my anxiety about eating “live” crabs had been another bad assumption!
The meal and conversation lasted for five hours and our waitress was exhausted, I know, before we left!
Wednesday. I got up and dressed (up) for the interview. I got to the International Office where I was to meet the film director and Sue, who would translate for me. The director (who turned out to be the assistant director), wanted me to wear a long-sleeve shirt since this was to be set in fall and he wanted it to be a plaid pattern. I didn’t have that combination. (He had a photo of me wearing a western shirt, and he liked that look, but he didn’t know that it was short-sleeved.) Anyway, he agreed that a blue striped long sleeve would be fine, so we drove back to the house to get it. We drove along the north coast road and eventually came to a scenic observation spot, where the film crew was already setting up their equipment. There were a covey of beautiful young women having their hair fixed up and putting on make-up and so forth, so we waited for a good while, until the assistant director came over and said I was to play the part of an American fashion designer who now lives in Weihai!!!! What about the interview, and what is this all about??? (Panic city! I actually thought he was kidding, but as I learned, he wasn’t.) A woman put a cap on my head (I think it was her own, and stuffed a scarf around my neck and into the open collar.
After a while, they came over and led me to a table set up so that the seacoast was in the background and I was to sit there and pretend to draw new designs for women’s clothes! So, I started designing a new line that I call, “Daisy Crockett.” And since I had no idea of what I was supposed to do, I just worked very diligently on this wonderful new design. After a long time, in which I gather they made a lot of clips, a man that I later learned was the director, gave me a “thumbs up,” so I thought I was done. Wrong again!! I was to continue with my design work, so I got some fresh paper and began working on the “Annie Oakley” collection. I filled up a couple of pages – but this time I used color as well as regular pencils. Eventually another thumbs up, but we still weren’t done, Now I was to take a tape measure and seriously evaluate a coat that I had supposedly designed (Sue said it wasn’t very fashionable, and I was very disappointed to hear that.) I was to do some measuring, then step back to look at the coat on the dummy, with my back to the sea and face to the camera, think about whether it was what I really liked, and take out my pipe and say ”good!” and then walk away. I only had to do that three times. So, finally I was released, and the director drove Sue and me back to the campus.
When I saw Lulu, I gave her a hard time about it, and she took it hard. However, Sue had kept one of my design works and Lulu grabbed that and made copies for everyone in the office (I don’t know about Sue), and put the original is a safe place somewhere – I have been told. So, Lulu later came into my office and said that to repay me for the misunderstanding, she was taking, Sue, Deb, and me to dinner at, you guessed it, KFC!!!! So, after Deb’s class we headed out to KFC.
We are still being treated to firecrackers outside the apartment. Apparently this is a really good time for weddings.
By the way – if you think that all we do here in China is to eat, you aren’t the first to make that observation!