It has gotten much cooler than it was so, now it is quite cold – weather-wise, I mean! It isn’t Nebraska cold, more like North Carolina cold, but it feels worse than Nebraska cold, I presume due to the humidity in the air off the ocean. It is now less desirable to pedal a bike around the city, and so we try to think of reasons not to go out instead of reasons to go out! We still do, of course, because that is our primary option, although we have standing invitations for transportation from a large number of friends, but we just can’t bother someone to come over to take us three blocks to the grocery store or whatever. So, we really enjoy staying in – even though we can’t most of the time!
Let me start out by telling you about the department store shopping experience. Our favorite department store is Hai Yue Supermarket, though it is not the largest by any means. It isn’t our favorite because it is two blocks from our house, though that is nice. It’s our favorite because the clerks and staff there go so far out of their way to help us. It is probably just a big sport for them (“Hey look, ya’ll! I’ve got these old foreigners who don’t know enough to at least take a taxi in this freezing weather here. Back off! They are MY foreigners, and it is my job to keep them from starving/ freezing/ over-heating/ buying the wrong thing/ otherwise messing up. So, leave them alone so I can get them what they need or keep them from making a big mistake!), but the result is good for us! At Hai Yue the clerks see us coming and they gear up for some interesting and weird things. So, they hover nearby until we demonstrate our total incompetence, then whoever is nearest steps up to assist. Their actual job is probably to get customers to buy more stuff, but in our case that isn’t a problem – clearly we are going to buy a lot of stuff, so they just have to help us figure out exactly what stuff we can’t live without.
So, let’s say, we want to buy a rice steamer. We study the labels and text on boxes and so forth as seriously as possible (actually hoping that if we look long enough, the Chinese characters will somehow transform into English. So far that hasn’t happened, by the way. Anyway after much discussion (which we comprehend not one word) and pointing to Chinese text and consultation with our electronic English-Chinese dictionary, we finally make a selection (based often on the repeated hand gestures of the clerks toward what we assume is the best buy.
This is where the fun actually begins. The sales clerk whose actual department this is (there are often several clerks from other departments around assisting in the decision-making) carefully and deliberately writes down on tiny paper forms all the stocking information about the item we are buying, and then keeps one and hands the other to me, and then he or she guides me to the appropriate cashier, who takes the little piece of paper and enters it into her computerized cash register system, takes cash, credit, or debit card, completes the transaction, and eventually hands me another couple pieces of paper with a rubber stamp of red ink or two on it, along with any credit card or other receipts, which I take back to the sales clerk, who carefully examines the receipts to make sure I haven’t paid too much or too little, and if everything is OK, I get the purchased item—with the official receipt firmly attached. Fine, but remember that this is a department store and there are many departments, so one has to guard the little paper forms and receipts carefully because we still have to pass through other departments and finally the grocery checkout before departing the store, and the receipts are carefully compared with the box information before we get the final red stamp on the receipt. I didn’t mention that this process does not relate to the cost of the item. It is the same process whether one is buying a AAA battery or an electric range!
This week, Deb and I had dinner at our favorite Korean place after Deb’s class and then we had to go get groceries and such supplies. So, while Deb went after the food items, I went up to the third floor to get some ultrafine gel pens (that we need to write Zhong wen because a single character can have 20 or so pen strokes, e.g., ), printer paper, and some tableware – which is actually two different departments. Anyway, I had two sauce serving bottles from the tableware department when I entered the office supplies department. So, I was beginning my investigation if the pens and paper – one kind of shopping that I really enjoy, when the sales lady of the department came over to me and just followed me around until she analyzed what I was seeking. So soon I had a hand full of pens, as well as the jars, so when I was looking at some more really cool pens, she came over to me with a hand basket for my stuff. By this time, I had been through the whole department and saw no printer paper, so I asked her about it, and she led me over there. I then saw the batteries and asked about them, so I now had a couple of dozen AAA and AA batteries when I went to the cashier. While I was waiting, the saleslady went across the whole floor and brought me a grocery-type cart because all my stuff was just too much for one old foreigner to carry I guess! She actually took my basket and placed it into the cart for me and then she felt it was safe enough for her to let me alone to pay and go. So, after procuring the requisite receipts and stamps, I took the bag of stuff in one hand and pushed the cart with the other hand to some point at which I could abandon it, not knowing from where saleslady had gotten it in the first place.
By the way, the carts in this store are interesting. They have ferrous metal around the rubber wheels. Big deal! Except that you go from floor to floor on escalators, and they are magnetized so that as soon as your front wheels get onto the escalator, they are riveted to the spot until they are swept off at the other end. This, I am sure prevents runaway carts down the escalator, out of the hands of four year olds or adults talking on cell phones!
Remember the roujiamo (pronounced something like “row ja more”) lady? I mentioned a couple of letters ago that to my surprise, she was there on Saturday as well as the rest of the week. Well, I was talking with Yvonne who, along with Lulu, is always amused by our devotion to these “Chinese hamburgers,” and I mentioned to her that the rou jia mo lady was there on Saturday. She said, “yes, of course!” (basically, “so what?”) I said she works everyday, year round? “Yes, of course. It is her business.” I asked, “7 days per week, year round?” She said, “Yes, of course. By the way, it isn’t so bad. She only has to work a couple of hours at noon and a couple of hours at dinner, and the rest of the day, she can do what she pleases. I saw her at LiQun a while ago, and she told me that she sells over 1,000 roujiamo per day.” (And that is only a small part of her food business!) So, I guess Deb and I consuming 2 roujiamo per day isn’t too big of a factor in her success. But she still throws up two fingers when one of us goes into her shop.
It has gotten pretty chilly here in good old Weihai, and the wind off the ocean is brutal a good deal of the time. It’s actually rather exhausting to ride our bikes in this weather, but it is better than walking. However, WE HAVE HEAT now! It started at least two weeks before schedule. One day, I got an important message from Lulu that said our heat was on! It was then that we realized that explained why we had not been as cold in the house the day before. Anyway, we must be significantly clothed to brave the cold outside. I take this seriously but Deb is more determined to take style into account. The way I see it, what difference does it make whether people are staring due to the clothing or due to the unusual appearance of just being us.
Speaking of Deb, here she is to share some thoughts!
Deb’s diary contributions!
Graduate Forum: Last Friday was pretty special for me. About a month ago I had been asked by one of the students in one of the classes I teach to be on a panel for the graduate student forum held last Friday evening. I am not sure if this is a monthly or semester based forum, but the topic of discussion was “How Can China Prepare Herself to be in the Running for a Chinese Scholar to Receive a Noble Prize?” It has not escaped the students’ notice that no Chinese person working in China has received a Nobel prize and they are concerned with the infrastructure and education they have available to them in order to be competitive in the global marketplace.
Finnie accompanied me to this forum. The student who had invited me met Finnie and me in the Foreign Teacher’s Building lobby at 4:15 and escorted us in the bitter wind and cold to the building where the event was to take place. “How far is it away?” “Oh just around the corner.” We have learned that this generally means uphill for 10 minutes, which this turned out to be as well. We were stopped along our way by one of the professors (Sonny) who had visited Kearney about 2 years ago and he asked if we were available to join his department’s meeting later in the evening. We were not only committed for the forum, but had accepted a dinner invitation at Amy and Frank’s house after the forum. The student took my bike in hand and pushed it up the hill and finally we arrived at the building.
We got to the building of the forum just in time to get our layers of coats, hats, gloves and backpacks off. There were about 100 students there and a few professors and the panelists. The room was a crisp temperature. The panelists were the Vice president of Academic Affairs, the Graduate Dean, some other professor, and me. Since the forum was in Chinese except for me, I had an interpreter assigned to me. But even with an interpreter it was hard to understand the nuances that were being discussed. Finnie was in the audience with an interpreter as well. (By the way, my interpreter was a fluent bi-lingual graduate student; Finnie’s interpreter was one of the students from my classes and speaks about 4 languages and is learning German).
The graduate student who invited me sent me my questions 2 days (remember the 48 hour rule?) before the event. My questions were easy but I was really concerned with what and how I said things because I am a visitor in China and felt I needed to talk only about what I knew – which, of course, is limited.
The event began with the forum leader talking for 5 minutes, which I imagined was to set up the discussion. She then worked down through the questions that had been arranged for each of the forum speakers to address. The other panelists were asked to address their questions and then I was asked. Fortunately the leader asked me the question in English. I had been told to speak slowly and clearly because everyone in the audience would be able to understand. So I did. I had prepared my answers with written statements. Not knowing what was going to be said and also feeling very nervous about bumbling through this, I wanted to actually have something prepared that would keep me on track. I find that it is hard to talk without notes at a very slow rate. The prepared notes helped tremendously. I got through the first question and waited until the second question was asked.
I was asked my second question and unfortunately got to the part where I said how much I really enjoy teaching these classes and managed to choke up. I certainly did not mean to do that.
The forum ended, everyone shook everyone’s hand. We donned our layers of coats, gloves, hats, backpacks and got to the bikes again. Several students helped us down the stairs – holding onto to us tightly so we wouldn’t fall on their watch, unlocked our bike locks and watched with amusement as we attached our headlights and blinking blue butt lights to our bikes. They again displayed dismay that two over the hill oldsters where heading off into the darkness and cold on bikes.
Later this week the student who had invited me to speak gave me a gift to thank me for participating in the forum.
The end of this story is the unexpected email I received from one of the students at the forum and who is also one of the students in one of the classes I teach. Here is that touching email:
My dear teacher:
My english is not very good, exactly it is poor. So I am always afraid to communicate with you or write emails to you. In addition, I never had any private E-mail to the teachers. Probably because of my personality. Or perhaps because of other reasons. You know, in China, the relationship between teachers and students are not very close. But I still want to write to you, getting up all my courage.
This afternoon I also went to forum you have attended, your speech really touched me so much. You love to this course, you love to students, and your hardworking, your warm-heart, and always encourage us in class, and so on. I really don’t know how to express my praise and thanks in english. But I really appreciate your teaching us. And I think I am so lucky to have a teacher like you. Thank you very much!
And one more things is that I really feel shame that I don’t do a good job in class, Lack of seriousness, and is also not positive enough. Because sometimes I really can’t follow you, and the materials you give us is too much for me, so I usually can’t finish them all. But I think it’s really the time for me to cheer up and study hard, only in this way I think it’s the good gift to a teacher like you, maybe.
Maybe there are many mistakes in my emails, please forgive me, I really have tried my best.
At last, best wishes to you again!
Wish you good health and happy every day!
Dinner at Frank’s: As I said we headed out into the cold after the forum was over with. It was only 6PM but here it gets dark starting at 4PM. So by 6 it was dark, cold, and windy. We were not really that far from the Frank’s house and knew about where it is located. We only missed it by one apartment building. Amy came down the stairs and insisted we park out bikes inside, we climbed up the stairs (they live on the same level as we do) and their house was warm and cozy and filled with dinner smells. We sat at her dining table and ate a wonderful meal as she prepared it. Chinese cooking is served one dish at a time because it tastes better freshly cooked and because most kitchens have a 2 burner gas stove, no oven, and limited space – all of which contributes to the necessity of preparing one dish at a time. Amy had already prepared a potato salad and a turnip salad. Absolutely wonderful. The potato salad was very creamy and made with potatoes and leeks – like a German potato salad. And the turnip salad was made with green turnips shredded finely and tossed in a vinegar dressing – wow amazingly good!
Frank teaches piano and every time Finnie and I have been to their house they always have one of his students there to help and to play the piano for us. The Frank’s have a small grand piano in their living room which takes up a third of the space. Anyway, last Friday night’s helper was a freshman piano student who understood English but was not really good at speaking (like we are dynamos with listening and speaking Chinese – not). She is a cute girl and was busy rolling out dumpling circles of dough. Amy prepared a beef dish that was excellent, and then she fixed lots of pan fried dumplings (stuffed with pork and leek), and she topped off the dinner with a freshly made pot of loofah soup made with chicken broth and bits of chicken. (soup is the last part of a Chinese meal before the fruit dessert) Oh my goodness it was fabulous. And this is the loofah that you scrub your skin with! When the vegetable is young and tender it is excellent in a soup – like eating zucchini. As the vegetable ages it becomes dry inside and is used as a scrubber for the skin. We had wine with our dinner – some of the wines here are really good.
And then we moved to the tea table and commenced to consuming gallons of different kinds of tea. Frank is a tea connoisseur and like a connoisseur of fine wines prepared the tea in a particular order so that the tastes would not compete in our mouths. We started with green tea, then pu’er, then red tea, then black tea and then other kinds of tea that he wanted us to try. Each tea had its own special brewing pot and each tea was really good. I especially like pu’er tea with its slightly sweet flavor. Did you know that some green tea stands on end when it is brewed? The whole art of selecting, brewing, and drinking tea is fun to be a part of. By then the cute student had finished washing dishes and had joined us for tea.
After a suitable time, Frank asked her to play. She immediately hopped up and played a Beethoven sonata flawlessly. Frank was taking pictures and video of her while she played. We talked with her for a while about when she started to play – age 12 – and long she practices every day – 4 hours. And then we said, “Frank, we have not heard you play”. He hopped up and happily launched into Mozart and then followed it with a tune by a Chinese composer. Both were beautifully played.
While the tea drinking and piano playing had been going on, we had been watching and listening to a video called “Swingin’ Bach” – a Live Concert from the Market square in Leipzig in 2000 with Bobby McFerrin “singing” Bach. That is, he sings the notes in a manner of various instruments of the orchestra, so it isn’t lyrics he is singing. It was actually fabulous! If you don’t have this video I would recommend it!
What an amazing evening of debate (at the forum), good food, amazing tea and beautiful music!
Finally, we donned our coats, hats, mittens, and backpacks with our gifts of tea and cake from the Fan’s and headed home – after the headlight and blue light additions to our bikes. Fortunately we had a tail wind and got home in short order. Then we spent the rest of the night wide awake with tea caffeine coursing through our veins – I finally fell asleep at 2 and Finnie fell asleep at 4.
Sunday night dinner for the foreigners: Last Sunday night we prepared dinner in our house for some of the foreign teachers that we have been hanging out with. Barbara, from Ohio, Judy and Richard, from Canada, and David and Pearl (he is from the UK and she is Chinese), who brought their 5 and 2 year-olds with them. So we had a rollicking 9 person dinner around a table meant for 4. We needed to accommodate some restrictions – no beef or pork and very well cooked vegetables. After pre-dinner starters of roasted peanuts and cashews, shrimp chips and mandarin oranges with whatever to drink, we started the dinner with a potato-turnip soup and bread and honey. Then we brought out a chicken and rice dish, homemade applesauce, and the piece de resistance – KFC. What a hit that was!!! The kids loved it, the adults loved it, and everyone was happy! Finnie had gone down to KFC an hour before everyone got there and got two buckets of chicken. For dessert Judy had made apple crisp in her toaster oven, and had found some whipping cream to go on top – yummy.
An aside: We each had received a box of apples earlier in the week (therefore Finnie and I have 2 boxes of apples) so everyone has been trying to figure out ways to use the apples. Given the fact we don’t have an oven, the logical use of the apples (for westerners) would be apple pie or cake, so since there is no oven, we have resorted to applesauce, apple crisp (using our huge supplies of oatmeal) and just eating them plain. Actually in writing this, I think I might try “baking” apples in the microwave and see how that turns out.
After a while David, Pearl and the kids tromped home – or I hope actually they got a cab. And the rest of us sat quietly enjoying conversation. We had tea, talked for a bit, enjoyed the fudge that Judy had made (the chocolate was heavenly) and then our guests headed home. Sorry, we didn’t think of photos for some reason.
Finnie is the automatic dishwasher in this house and so by 10 he had all the dishes washed and drying. We had leftovers for a day or two and by Thursday had to go shopping for things again.
Coffee: The one food item we miss is real coffee. But several people have come to our rescue. We found Nestle’s instant coffee with cream and sugar already in it – it is like drinking a cup of cocoa. Susan Jensen brought ground coffee with her from our favorite coffee shop in Kearney and we have been brewing that in a French press. And just this week Kathy and Micheal sent a package with instant Starbucks coffee. We each tried a cup last evening – Finnie was up until 5 this morning and I was awake until 2-ish – we have had another cup this morning and will try not to have another until tomorrow morning. Tastes very good!!!!
Dinner at Golden Bay Hotel Friday night on Nov. 20 we hailed a taxi and showed the driver the business card for the Golden Bay Hotel. We went to the Golden Bay Hotel to pay our deposit for the Thanksgiving Dinner we are holding for our many friends here in Weihai. Golden Bay is a five star hotel right on the beach of Weihai and its occupancy is usually 60-70% westerners. In fact, when we were sitting in the bar area to pay our deposit a group of westerners was sitting down for their pre-dinner drinks. I had been meeting with Jason to arrange this dinner and Friday night was the date we had agreed to pay the deposit. Jason is the restaurateur (I think this is the word) for the Western dining room and kitchen staff at the hotel. So after the deposit was made and we got our little thin paper receipt from Jason, he escorted us downstairs where the restaurants are. The hotel has a Western Room and the Oriental Room. Our Thanksgiving dinner will be in the Western Room and it will be a perfect place for a family type thanksgiving dinner. I had told Jason earlier in the day on Friday that we would be arriving at the hotel about 5:30 to pay our deposit and to also have dinner. He had prepared a special table for us next to the window that overlooks the bay of the Golden Bay beach. Even though it was dark we could still see the waves shining in the moonlight. We delighted in the fact that the menu was in Chinese and English and with pictures! No guess work for this meal! We chose a plate of steamed oysters, clams, and scallops for an appetizer, sweet and sour pork, a few pan-fried dumplings (pastry filled with pork and vegetables) and a plate of mixed green vegetables (broccoli, possibly bok choy, possibly celery or a kind of celery and some other green vegetable). Dessert was a tiramisu that was exquisite. Prior to our food being served, Jason had us try the sweet Irish potato dish he will serve at our Thanksgiving dinner – it was marvelous. It was a white sweet (Irish) potato casserole baked with a creamy sauce and with honey added. Really, really good. Our dinner was absolutely delicious and we really were dreading the “mai-dan” (check). Jason very carefully handed it to Finnie and it was only 200 yuan – no way! We finally realized on the way home that Jason had purposefully not charged us for some items, we suppose because we are paying for a 20 guest dinner later in the week. Well, the food was wonderful, the elegance of the room was wonderful and Jason is a delightful young (early thirties) man. He spent 6 years in Miami with the hotel chain that Golden Bay is a part of and has worked at this type of job for several years. When given an opportunity to move back to China with the company he did and ended up in Weihai, which is fairly close to his hometown. We know all this because he really never left our table the entire time we were eating – a little nerve wracking but understandable since he wants to make new customers out of each of our guests on Thursday. I vote to go back to the Golden Bay on a regular basis – the food is wonderful and the menu has pictures!
Thus ends Deb’s newsletter sections
Sorry, but I am back, and I have a little more to tell. First, I am covering “Cloning” in my course right now, and since the students have not had a chance to see the kind of set-up it takes to do that sort of research, I first introduced the technology. Anyway, after the introduction, I showed a few slides about what the technology employs, including one of a young scientist using a set of micromanipulators and working on a pig zygote (see photo). So, they were very seriously studying the set up, and I mentioned that they had actually met the scientist. They looked very confused and perplexed, so I said, “I know you have met this person because I saw you when you met him.” Now they look really confused, like they were thinking that laoshi (teacher) has lost his mind. So, I went over to one of them and said (while shaking his hand), “Don’t you remember meeting that man? I was there when you shook his hand.” While he was shaking his head and looking more wild-like, one of the others said, “That is you????” I said, “Yes – that was me in 1983.” (Gasps all around!!) Apparently it had not occurred to them that humans were actually living and functioning that long ago. I don’t think any of them had been born in 1983. That was really a funny thing for me! I so enjoyed their total surprise. So, one of them came over to me at break time and said, “you used to be very handsome!” I replied, “used to be?? USED to be??” So, while he was trying to gracefully explain that he of course meant that I am handsome now –it is just that he meant that I was handsome then, too – I chuckled greatly and told him I understood and appreciated his compliment.
I am getting a bit of a new assignment! I will not be teaching next semester, but spending full time as a member of the International Office staff, and focusing on program development. This is a good move because I’ll be plugged straight into the office functions, and I’ll have (in fact, already have) a new office within the International Education Office area – that is, in addition to the office I have now. But more than that, I will be getting a completely new set of office furniture for the office in which to meet with students and visitors in a nice, comfortable office that is attractively appointed. I asked out of the shopping, and Deb and Lulu enthusiastically charged down to the furniture market to select the perfect stuff! So, the next day, I had to go down to size it up – that is, to sit in the chairs and at the desks to see if they can make adjustments to have them fit my a-smidge-larger-than-the-typical-Zhongguoren body in the contemplated furniture. So, we did all that, and they are custom-making a new desk in the special big Meiguoren size and height! I think the furniture will be installed in about a week.
Anyway, I will miss being with the students in the classroom, but I have already started a new activity that will keep me and, when she is available, Deb, engaged directly with students. Plus, it will afford more time for me to take part of International Office functions. For example, I had been asked way back in early September to participate in the celebration of Australian National Day activities in November. But the key event was at the same time as my Monday class. So, next semester will be a little different for both Deb and me.
I just mentioned that we have set up a new set of activities that will keep us engaged with students. We are calling it “English Conversation Sessions.” Basically, we set up a time for interested students to come and just listen to and speak English in a non-threatening situation. We’ll do this for a couple of hours every Sunday Afternoon. I would love to announce this for general participation, but I know that we would have between 3,000 and 15,000 students in our office every time, and so that doesn’t seem very feasible. We have decided to invite just those students who have shown enough chutzpa to seek us out. Hopefully, if we are successful in getting American students and faculty to come here in larger numbers, we can expand this because it is desperately needed and coveted. Anyway, we start tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes.