Deb and Finnie’s Life in Weihai: Entry 9

October 16, 2009

For this week, I want to start with a couple of things I forgot to mention last week.

First, when we were touring the wind turbine region south of Weihai, we saw a bizarre sight I meant to tell you about: In the middle of the big highway, with traffic going and coming was a women in a bride’s gown (typical big deal, western style), standing on the center line with a photographer snapping photos from all directions, both apparently oblivious to traffic. We slowed down to a crawl to try to get a photo, but we weren’t as brave as they were, so I have no photos — alas.

Second, while we were on our way up to the observatory (riding in a taxi!), Deb asked Sue (our Chinese teacher) and her friend, Mandy, where they live on campus. We thought maybe they were roommates, but, no, they don’t even live in the same dormitory. But that little exchange caused Deb to ask how many roommates they have. Both in one voice said 5 – i.e., 6 students per room. I’ve seen student rooms and they are about 10 ft by 12 ft in size. Each has a balcony (for drying clothes). Deb asked how having so many roommates works, and they indicated that 6 girls are too many in one room – too many disagreements. The both agreed that 6 boys in a room that size is fine, but 6 girls are too many! I haven’t talked any boys about this but I’m guessing that they may feel that six girls in a room is fine, but six boys in a room is too many — just a guess! (Note, in China, I think as long as you aren’t married, a male is a boy and a female is a girl – very much unlike in the US, where 17 year olds are men and women!) I found this conversation somewhat amusing – after serving for several years as a university’s chief academic and chief student officer, I am very aware that American students expect a substantial amount of space, privacy, and various amenities (that were inconceivable back in the dark ages when I was a college student!) Sue and Mandy further commented that not only are 6 girls too many, but there is no privacy for bathing or for studying and I gather that there are no closets – just small chests for clothes storage. This, too, will change, I am sure.

dorm showing balconys for drying clothes

I also forgot to tell you an interesting thing that I learned last Tuesday evening last week, when we had dinner with Zoe, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and their son, Jason.. Jason had told me earlier in the afternoon, proudly, that his father had majored in “tractor” in college. At dinner, just as I asked Jason what he would major in at college, Mr. Jones, leaned toward me and said that when he was in college, he majored in “tractor.” I was trying to figure out what this major might actually be. So, I mentioned that I had majored in agriculture, too. That didn’t elicit the response I thought it might have – that is, I sort of assumed that he would be interested in meeting a fellow farm kid – but that wasn’t the case. He was polite, but not very interested in talking farming with me. So, I asked if he had grown up on a farm, and he said, “No. in a village.” When I looked confused, he explained: In the time when he was a high school student, the parents decided what one would study, if anything. His father had decided that he would study “tractor” because there were too few experts on tractors in China at the time. So, anyone who studied “tractor” got a full scholarship to college and the family got reduced taxes and other monetary benefits. Consequently, it was no contest as his was a poor village family, and even though he knew little of farming, he would go to college and study “tractor.” I still need to flesh out this more, but I ASSUME that “tractor” is something like agricultural engineering. More on this when I learn more! Anyway, the major appears to have served him well, as he is well respected and appreciated in Weihai! Mr. Jones made it clear that what Jason studies, and it will be in the US, will be entirely Jason’s decision – and responsibility for where it leads.

Now, for this week’s news! Remember that last week was the national holiday week for mid-autumn festival and National Day (October 1), so there was no school in the elementary school near our house – we ASSUME — although the university did not take a holiday in order to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) here. I say “assume” because there were kids on the playground all week just like an ordinary week. Well, on Saturday and Sunday, school was fully in session all day, each day. I asked Lulu and Sue at two different times what was going on, and they looked at me like I was the poor ignorant toad that I am, and each said, “Well, last week was a holiday.” I said, “So?”; they said, “Well the kids had the holidays off.” I said, “Right. It was a national holiday. So why were they in school on the weekend?” They said, “Well, they had a holiday, so obviously they have to make up the time they missed school.” I said, “Are you saying they have to make up all days that they had as holidays?” They said, “Of course.” Then Lulu added, “Once when I was in middle school, all we kids were preparing for the national exams (that determine how they place and therefore what high schools (and ultimately, colleges) they qualify for), and we had been in school for 30 days in a row, full time. Finally, a teacher wrote an anonymous letter to the headmaster that said something like, “if you don’t give us a day off, you’ll find that all your teachers have jumped into the lake and drowned.” So, they finally got a day off from school! They seem to take this stuff seriously…

P.S., I went to bed after this paragraph, so this is Saturday AM. The kids are in school again!

New place to eat. Lulu, who thinks about food a lot, and she says she can eat a lot if she eats slowly. OK, she eats a lot fast, too, but like most other Chinese, she doesn’t gain weight (so unfair), told us about the most wonderful noodle shop in town and it is right here in campus in Canteen (actually, canting) Number 5. So, on Wednesday, we went there – it is near our office. This is a four-story dining hall, each floor having a large open dining room with small kitchens all around the perimeter, each specializing in some specific type of food. The noodle shop is owned and run by a Muslim family from western China – so, it specializes in western noodles. Anyway, you step up and place your order for whatever kind of noodles and soup you want. We wanted beef, so, we placed our order and found a table. Soon our order was ready (or some of it was). Lulu’s and Deb’s was ready first, so I waited for mine. I had enough time to watch them make noodles from scratch. The guy who made the noodles took a 1 inch diameter x 18 inch long piece of dough and rapidly stretched, split, and repeated this process until he had a huge mass of spaghetti-sized noodles, which were then cooked and finally served to me very hot. As soon as I dumped in a bunch of crushed red peppers, I was ready to try this. It was outstanding! We’ll eat there a lot, especially in cold weather. Speaking of which, we are having cool days and rain every day or two, along with hurricane force (almost) wind. A bowl of hot noodles holding about a liter of liquid and noodles tastes mighty good, and it costs ¥3 ($.42).

sm Lulu and Deb at Canteen no 5 eating 3 yuan home made noodles

We also found another new restaurant we like, and for once we know the name: Xiao Hua (Little Flower). We ordered by the random, eye-closed, finger on the menu method, which has generally served us well, but this time to a greater extent than before. Plus, we accepted the waitress’ apparent suggestion on one dish. Everything was so good we couldn’t believe it and when a college student waitress came to work, she was assigned to us, and she spoke English very well. She explained what each dish was – except the vegetables. She didn’t know their name, but said they were green (which we had actually been able to determine for ourselves). We asked her to write down the Chinese and English name for each dish (aside from green vegetable), and she gladly did so, but she said she would be there every night. I asked her what the restaurant’s main cuisine was and she said, “If you go up stairs, you can play cards and enjoy milk tea, and also eat.” I decided that was as close to an answer to my question as I would get, aside from maybe, “food,” so I expressed gratitude for the information she shared. We will go back there again with my trusty little pocket notebook and electronic dictionary.

On departing from the Xiao Hua, I had just mounted my bike when I heard someone shout, “Finnie!, Finnie!” I thought it was Deb, so I stopped to see what was up, but it wasn’t Deb. It was a girl, who said, “Do you remember me?” I said, “Of course!” hoping by some miracle that she would give me some clue as to how or why I should remember her. And she did. She mentioned that she had played piano for me at Professor Frank’s house. So, I remembered that when Jerry Fox and I were there in October 2007, a young student played for us. So, I told her how much we had enjoyed hearing her play. I asked if she would be having a recital sometime soon so we could hear her again. She said, “Friday night at 7:00!” So, we said we would be there, and established it would be in the Fine arts performance hall. I called Amy, our friend and the wife of Prof. Frank to be sure of the time and place. Amy was very excited that I called and said the recital is tonight (Thursday) at 7:00. It was then about 6:15. I said that the girl (who had played for us at her house had said Friday evening. Amy checked with Frank and said there are two recitals, one tonight and one on Friday night, both in the Fine Arts Recital Hall and both at 7:00. We went and enjoyed the performance, and as usual, we were dragged against all protest to the stage for photographs. (It really makes us feel uncomfortable to be photographed with the performers – which has been done three or four times in the last two or three weeks, but we were told, “You are important guests, so it is an honor for you to be in the photo with the performers.” The performers seemed to agree, so there we are in the photo, which by Friday was seen around the world. (Amy’s daughter, Rachel – who was at UNK and is now at University of New Mexico – told her the next day that she saw “Deb and Finnie” on the SDUW Music webpage.) The girl (“Pinkie,” I learned) played piano in a little ensemble of a string quartet plus the piano.

We are having our first American visitor this weekend. Susan Jensen from Deb’s old department at UNK will be here tomorrow through Tuesday morning – to visit Pian and Gertie. I asked Pian if Deb and I could host a dinner for her on Monday night. So, that was set up, and we’ve invited various officers and lieutenants to go to dinner with us to a restaurant that is very nice. Well, now we’ve stepped in it. Gertie and Pian have decided that we are still guests, ourselves, and they can’t allow us to host another guest, so we’re still trying to smooth over this little issue. We have made the arrangements and all that, and I’ll ask Pian and Gertie to be the official hosts (since I’m no sure that closing your eyes and randomly pointing to the menu is a good plan for a dinner for a guest), but I’ll pay for the dinner. That is likely to be still another mistake, but how fun can life be without these little mistakes??

Deb and I are having our first dinner party Sunday night at our apartment. We’ve invited Yvonne, Lulu, Sue, Mandy, and two other friends (Bruce and Matthew) to come to dinner. They are our guinea pigs to see if we can do this, We want to invite Dean Xu and President Han to come over for dinner, but we aren’t very certain about protocol, so this crowd is to give us help in all the do’s and don’ts of hosting a dinner party.

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