Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bolting the scene

by Kevin

When we first came to China, we were instructed that if we were ever in a taxi that got into an accident, we should leave the fare on the driver's seat and bolt the scene. As far as I can remember, last night was my third or fourth China accident, but first in a taxi. I've been in a bus that clipped a car, a van that hydroplaned into a highway pylon (a few weeks ago, on the way back from the airport). Thankfully, the lack of seatbelts here hasn't been a problem because most crashes in China are low speed.

Last night, as we headed off for dinner, our taxi was stuck behind a slow moving electric bike. Less than a block after we got into the car, the electric bike in front of us suddenly stopped. I'm not sure if the driver purposely stopped or if the power to his bike cut off. Our taxi driver safely slammed to a stop a few meters away from the bike. But then the bike driver did something unexpected--he started rolling the bike backwards and slammed its back wheel into the front of the taxi.

Nobody was hurt, but the bike rider glared and swore at the taxi driver. The taxi driver glared and swore back and got out. In China, typically, anytime there's an accident everyone leaves their vehicles in the middle of traffic and gets out to start arguing over whatever small amount the at fault driver can pay for repairs since nobody has insurance. As Peter Hessler notes in his excellent book Country Driving, usually the payoff for a small accident might run in the neighborhood of a few hundred RMB ($30-$50). Every other car is left with the responsibility of finding a way around. Our little side road to the east gate was immediately clogged with traffic that couldn't move.

Since nobody was hurt, there clearly was no damage with a half-mile-per-hour collision, and he wasn't at fault, no doubt our driver began to explain that he didn't need to pay this possibly drunken electric bike rider anything. An argument ensued.

We started asking ourselves. "When should we get out and find a new taxi?"

The answer came quickly. As crowds began to gather around our taxi (anytime there's an accident, crowds of pedestrians seem to gather to see what might happen next), the bike rider rolled his bike backwards into the taxi, crashing into the front bumper again. This time with slightly more force than the first accident. He then put his hand on his butt and grimace, feigning injury. The driver argued, then escorted the man and his electric bike to the sidewalk. Then they started throwing punches. Nothing that would draw blood -- or probably even bruises, but punches nonetheless. The driver got the biker into a headlock and onto the ground. Then they scrambled to their feet. As we got out of the taxi, we quickly picked up our pace toward the next road, where we might be able to find another taxi, the men were sparring.

We figured that though we may have been the only witnesses who could substantiate what had happened, we'd better err on the side of caution. Sometimes a crowd mentality can escalate violence and redirect it at the foreign faces. Particularly if they thought that somehow we had caused the accident. We figured the police can find us easily enough if they need witnesses to corroborate, but since a police car drove out the street just as we were leaving, we figured this "accident" would never get that far.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Errands and arrival

by Kevin

Ruth, Juliana and Candy are here. All napping, as they should be after 37 hours of travel (about 24 of those spent in the air). It is good to have them back. They are understandably exhausted, but Ruth said the baby rested alot, so that is a blessing.

I really have nothing to complain about, but I thought I would share an interesting cultural experience on the way to pick them up.

The school sent the van to pick me up at 8 a.m., 4 hours before the flight was to land, because we needed to go to Xi'an to pick up some health documents and for the new Japanese teacher to pick up his "luggage." Naturally, the driver came more than a half hour late because he needed to get "oil" (or gas?) for the van, which required him to drive all the way across town (apparently the closest gas station). Thankfully, this is a small town.

The school won't let any of the foreigners go to Xi'an on our own, at least for a couple of weeks. There have been reports of anti-Japan rallies in Xi'an, in which thousands of students carried anti-Japan banners and handed anti-Japanese slogans for awhile, until finally taking out their frustrations on Japanese cars and stores selling Japanese-banded electronics both of the last two weekends, so the school asked us not to go and now sends a security guard to escort the Japanese teachers anytime they want or need to leave the campus. (Thankfully this policy was implemented 2-3 hours AFTER I got to Xi'an last weekend for team leader meetings). Sometimes this sort of thing can get out of hand and spread to ANY foreigner, so I can understand the school's fears. Anyway, this meant that our trip would be more than just a jaunt to the airport. The new Japanese teacher has actually lived in Xi'an for 5 years and speaks excellent Chinese. He is currently finishing a master's degree in the city, which explains why he has an apartment there. It also explains why it took more than an hour and a half for him to get his "luggage" loaded into the van.

As we pulled up to the apartment building, he explained that his girlfriend, a Chinese woman, lives in the apartment. He hadn't seen her in almost three months. When we arrived, none of his things were packed. He'd simply left his belongings behind and went home to Japan for the summer. So, as his girlfriend served tea and chocolates, the school official and I sipped and watched the two frantically pack several boxes full of books and clothing and assorted other things. Suddenly, a half-hour into our stay, the school official suggested that perhaps she could retrieve the documents now instead of waiting until after the packing was done -- or worse -- after the plane arrived. The government office wasn't far away, so she made it back before the packing was done.

Thankfully, that meant that we made it to the airport just as the plane landed. As we waited, several of the tallest Chinese men I'd ever seen sauntered through the airport. I wonder if they are part of the Chinese basketball team, set to play the American team on the 31st at the arena adjacent to our school. Can't seem to find any info apart from the big banners near the street and in the park. Could be interesting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Have Baby, Will Travel

Juliana, already an expert with chopsticks, is all ready for China.
Though it's still a week away, I have already begun packing for our trip back to China.  The floor is strewn with suitcases.  One suitcase is almost completely full of baby clothes, de-aired and compressed in Ziplock bags.  I believe I have mentioned before that we have a LOT of baby clothes.  Which is probably good, because some days she does go through the outfits.  Chinese people would undoubtedly be appalled by how much stuff we're bringing.   They were already amazed by the three baby things we had before we left, and now we have about three hundred baby things.  Three hundred baby things that somehow have to make their way across the world.  Thus, the packing.

The other day we calculated that the total trip will take about 37 hours.  37 hours!  Assuming there are no delays.  I'm used to long trips, but that's a really long trip.  With an infant.  And three hundred baby things.  How many diapers does one need for 37 hours?  How many changes of clothes - for baby and for you, after she spits up and/or poops on you three hours into the trip?  I am not looking forward to this.  I am really glad my mom is going to be there too.  I can't imagine trying to do it by myself.  Yikes.

Hopefully Juliana will be a good traveler.  If she's not, the of her life...are not going to be fun.  Actually, this might be the easiest trip we take with her for a long time, while she is still unable to get around on her own.  She does like lots of noise and movement, so hopefully she will be lulled by airplane.  And the jetlag might not be as bad for either of us, since she still hasn't quite figured out night and day.  Besides, we will be so dead exhausted that time itself will probably have very little meaning.

Kevin has already been back in China for a week and a half or so.  I know he misses Juliana.  He has gotten to talk with her several times on video Skype.  When she hears her daddy's disembodied voice, she turns and looks perplexedly toward the camera, and then amuses him by going through her series of funny expressions.  The wide-eyed shocked face. The yawn.  The concentrated stare.  The sleepy-grin.  And my favorite: the shiny eyed, open mouthed, delighted-to-see-you smile.

Juliana continues to get cuter every day.  You wouldn't think it possible, yet somehow it happens.  She has started having longer periods of being awake (some of them even during the day...), and most of the time she is quite happy.  She still loves to be held about 22 hours a day, but she has also been spending some happy time lying on a blanket on the floor, looking around and wiggling her legs and watching me pack.  When she wakes up at night, she loves to stare at the patterns on the ceiling made by beside lamp.  During the day, she especially likes to rock on the front porch swing (like a true Southern girl), look at the books in the library (a good sign for her literary future), and snuggle up with anyone willing to hold her.  And with the progression of visitors - first her Nana and Gramps and great-grandfather from California and then all her aunts - there have been plenty of people eager for a turn.
All the sisters

Tomorrow Juliana goes to the doctor for her one month checkup.  She is already one month old!  And still smaller than a lot of babies are when they are born.  She has grown, though, and is fitting much better into her newborn clothes.  She is already changing too - eating better, becoming more sociable, sometimes sleeping longer (4 hours a couple of times!  Incredible!), getting more expressive, and yes, even cuter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fun with names

by Kevin

Sometimes you just wonder what these students are thinking. I've been back in Weinan for about three days now and have already taught three slightly jetlagged classes and managed to have both computers here breakdown.

But one thing that always brightens my day at the beginning of a new semester is seeing and hearing the English names my students have chosen. Usually, I pass around a list on the first day of class and encourage them to take their pick. But since I wasn't here for their first lesson this year, the students had already made their choices. In addition to normal everyday names like Mike and Sam and Victor and Amy and Sally and Lisa, I always wind up with a handful of oddball names.

For example, I asked if my class yesterday had selected a monitor yet. The girl shyly stood up. "Do you have an English name yet?"

"Yes," she said, sheepishly. "Leaves-a."

"Lisa?" I asked, not sure if I heard her right?

"No, Leaves-a," she said. It hit me that she was adding an extra syllable onto the end of her name, as Chinese students often do.

"I've never heard someone use that as a name," I told her.

Usually I encourage them to change them because no native speaker would take you seriously if you introduced yourself as "Leaves." Probably not even if you were wearing tie-dye.

But hers was only one of many strange names that showed up when I asked students to list their English names.

Some, I can't help but wonder if they are misspellings. There's YaLianna, but maybe she just has a hard time saying Lilian or Lianna. There's Buluce (Bruce?), Mria or Mvia (I couldn't quite read her handwriting, but perhaps she meant Mia or Maria? Lijaky (Leejay?), Selar (Stella/Star?), Shasha ("Sasha?) Aileen (Eileen?), Kaia (Kayla/Kay?), Kathyria (Kathryn?), Felice (Felicia?), Sunna (Sunny?).

In one class, I was scanning the list and found a Shannor. I figured that surely she meant Shannon, until I went further down the list and found another girl named Shannon (we try to encourage students to not choose the same name as a classmate).

Others like Still , Lemon, Tiramisu, Fantasy, Lucky, Delta, Cherry and Willow are at least words, even if their usefulness as names is a bit questionable. If only a few had chosen pronouns, prepositions or conjunctions as names, you could make sentences just from their names they choose.

Lenka Hopes that Milo Still likes Tiramisu, Coco and Candy, but Cher's Fantasy is to eat Lemons and Cherries with Bella under the Willows on the Delta in the Summer under the Starrs.

The upside of these names is they're a lot easier to remember than Vivian, Ann, Sarah and Amy (Almost every class tends to have at least one of these). So now the decision, should

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Holiday in China

Wonder what happens when 1.3 billion people all go on vacation at the same time?
This week is National Holiday in China.  On Saturday, 122,000 people attempted to visit the Forbidden City.  Just think, this could be you.
They should really make a "Where's Waldo?" China edition.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Baby's got a Passport!

At 10 days old, baby has her first passport.  Probably the first of many.  The funny thing is, when we went to the post office last week to apply (at 5 days old), they said she was not the youngest!  The guy said he's had a 2-3 day old before.  A bit of a disappointment.  I'd like to know what that baby was doing breaking our record.

Seriously though, how did they do that?  We were still in the hospital at that point.  And getting the passport is a bit of a process.  First, you have to make sure the hospital files the birth certificate information right away.  The day after we got home from the hospital, Kevin went downtown to get authenticated copies of the birth certificate.  The next day, we headed to the post office.  But still - 5 days.  Apparently we're slackers.

Oh, and in the middle of that were a lot of attempts to get a baby passport photo.  How hard is it to get a newborn to lie on a white background with head straight and eyes open?  Very difficult.  Especially when she's still at the point of opening her eyes about 5 minutes a day.  And then there filling out the forms and decisions like eye color, hair color.  All rather relative.  By the time the passport expires at age 5, I think she'll look pretty different from five days old.

So baby's first non-medical outing was to the post office to apply for a passport.  Sounds appropriate.  Other monumental events in the first two weeks include a first real bath a few days ago.  Juliana was surprisingly chill through the whole thing, at least until it was time to get out.  She's gotten to hang out with Aunt Becky and Aunt Anna and meet her great-grandmother.

And later today, she will get to meet her second set of grandparents and great-grandfather for the first time!  Other than that, it's just been lots of eating and pooping and sleeping, with a healthy dose of fussing and a few fun smiles mixed in.