Monday, November 17, 2008

THROAT COAT AND OTHER ESSENTIALS

When foreigners first move to China, we witness many things that cause us bewilderment and trepidation. With time, however, we come to trust in this system of disorder as its own kind of order - one to not question and certainly one to not over-analyze. In our first weeks here, we hesitantly cross the street patting ourselves on the back each time we make it to the other side safely. After awhile, however, we realize that crossing the street is not something we do successfully, but something we are a part of - a mere leaf in a flowing river of traffic that looks chaotic and terrifying but is actually rather fluid and beautiful. Lots of little things make us think, in the beginning, how fortunate we are on a daily basis to avoid injury or embarrassment. Things that shouldn't work, do. Condemned theme parks are open for business, and everyone survives the dilapidated rides intact. Accidents occur directly in our path and we remain unscathed. Taking a walk down the street promises countless opportunities to find oneself in the line of a hawked loogie, a fountain of pee or a waterfall of dirty mop water tossed out from shop doors or off the roofs of buildings. After two years of avoiding anything other than apparent "close-calls," I had settled myself comfortably into a feeling of nothing less than a sincere trust in this system of living. When new foreigners commented on near run-ins with speeding taxis or defecating children, I internally smiled at their distrust and fear of this beautiful system that gives one the feeling of living dangerously without the chance of any real danger. My whole sense of how to function in China lies in my belief that becoming a player in this system rather than trying to react to it ("No hesitation" being my mantra as I cross the street) was brought crashing down last Friday. As Halley and I were standing outside Happy Guy's peer pressuring Zoe into skipping her weekend classes to come with us to the ladies' retreat in Xiangfan, a couple drops of water hit the top of my head. These weren't indicators of a rainy evening ahead but, rather, dire warnings of what was about to befall us - warnings we didn't heed, ignored warnings that would haunt me and shake my belief in this system of "close calls but no cigars" (haha In Chinglish this phrase rhymes.). A few seconds later, we were showered with dirty mop water containing no less than twenty five different strains of bacteria - a third of which remain unidentifiable to the modern world. I should insert here that we were, thankfully, not drenched by this water, having missed the greatest portion of it by a few feet. However, bullets of water hit me directly in my right eye as a result of poor reaction time on my part, and my eyesight became blurry for just long enough that I was sure I would be blind within the hour and spend the rest of my life explaining that my loss of eyesight was due to some dirty mop water thrown off the top of a building in a small city in China. Having believed beforehand that it was a part of the system to often be close enough to the water being thrown from a doorway to think "Yikes! Too close," but far enough to never actually be hit, I was, not surprisingly, a little shaken up after finally being hit. My whole faith in the system was brought down. I timidly crossed the street shortly after this incident and was slightly more wary of other potential disasters awaiting me. I have since had my faith restored in the system and count that one terrifying encounter as a fluke. The odds, I believe, are still in my favor.

Speaking of close calls, Jessica and I almost missed our train back from Xiangfan last night. Now this goes far beyond the inconvenience of having to wait for the next train to leave or the annoyance of paying for another ticket; our faces were on the line. Had we missed our train, we would have had to shamefully admit this to the very Xiangfanren who had two weeks prior missed the Shiyan stop (on their way to visit us and to participate in our sweet 80s Halloween party) and ended up in AN KANG (the worst, most demonic city in China and, perhaps, the world). Quite rightfully so, we have enjoyed giving the Xiangfan people a hard time about the fact that they missed our stop since it's only two stops from their city, and they've been here before multiple times. So, you can see, had Jessica and I missed our train home, we would have not only had to admit this to the Xiangfan folks, but we would have had our rights to continue mentioning their own train stop foible revoked, thereby taking away much future enjoyment for ourselves. This is what happened: we lost track of time at Carie's apartment and emerged into the busy intersection to catch a taxi right at shift change time. So as empty taxis whizzed past us waving us off, minutes whizzed by giving us twenty minutes until our train left when finally a good Samaritan picked us up. The taxi ride took fifteen minutes, the fight with the taxi driver over money took some additional precious seconds, and the distance to the train station on foot (because the taxi driver dropped us off too far from the front door, and our Chinese isn't sufficient enough in the heat of the moment to say, "You stop when we TELL you to stop.") added an anxiety filled half minute. When we got to the station, we had five minutes until the train departed. Since nearly all Xiangfan to Shiyan trains are late by half an hour or so, we thought we might fall into the good graces of what is on other occasions a frustrating delay. But all the information boards said our train was on time. At some point we began to run. We got to the small gate, and it was closed. All the passengers had boarded. We spotted some workers sitting over in a corner and did our friend Carie's famous arm-flailing, taxi driver-attention getter, and the workers rushed to our rescue. They asked a woman to see if the train was still here, and it was! They let us through the small gate, and we rushed down the hallway to a large locked gate where a worker majestically threw open the gigantic metal doors, and light from heaven shone glaringly through them as our salvation was waiting for us to board. We thrust our tickets into the faces of one of the workers asking for car 13, and he told us to just board! The stairs had been removed already so we hoisted ourselves into the car, trudged through a couple cars looking for ours, gave up on the search and, instead, found a couple empty seats where we were and collapsed into them heaving from exertion. So the end of this story is 1) we saved our schedule, 2) we saved some money, and 3) we saved our very precious faces.

We were in Xiangfan this weekend for our annual fall ladies' retreat. It was a great experience. We have such amazing sisters and "friends." I wish I could go into so much detail. I often feel this frustration that the things I most want to blog about, the people and the incredible things they say and do, are the very things I am unable to express. At any rate, the retreat was a blessing to all of us, and it was awesome to see our Father's hand in it all.

When we arrived in Shiyan last night around ten thirty, we took a taxi home. As we drove through campus, we noticed how eerily dark it was. There were no lights on anywhere - a sure sign that we would be roughing it when we got home. Indeed, the entire campus was without electricity and water and had been for the majority of the day. James was nice enough to welcome Jess and me home with a little flashlight shining through the stairway, and I was reminded of His Providence in even the smallest of affairs: earlier in the week I received care packages from loved ones back home who had sent me candles that proved essential last night. The electricity and water were both turned on mid-morning, and a long, hot shower is beckoning me.

This morning I awoke with a sore throat. Again, thanks to a care package, I've been drinking throat coat tea all morning and afternoon. It's great stuff. It's getting much colder here. I wore five layers of clothing this morning. I may have slightly overdone it (even the Chinese said it was too much, and that never happens), but I was warm and quite comfortable.

We were honored to have breakfast with one of our favorite former Shiyan people today. Since the girls went to Xiangfan this weekend, the boys in Xiangfan, Will and William, decided to come to Shiyan. We're happy they could afford the trip and that William stayed an extra day so we could get together and talk about the great qualities of our respective cities.

It's time for me to plan this week's classes. Mondays are my prep days, and this one has been interrupted by several oral English final exams I scheduled for the afternoon. My question for the day is why is the weather always nicest (the sky has just turned blue, and the sun has emerged - something I haven't seen in so long I can't remember the last time) when I can't go outside to enjoy it?

1 comment:

Greg said...

Hey, this is Greg Russell, from Jingzhou last year (now in Wuhan). I'm gonna be in Shiyan/Wudangshan this weekend (T-Giving weekend), and I figured I should see who's in Shiyan these days. Anyway - a Google search on hiking Wudangshan turned up your blog, and since I don't know any other way to contact you guys, I'm posting this comment here. You can send me a Facebook message or send me an email at gcrussell1@gmail.com, or Skype me at gcrussell1, or do nothing at all.