Thursday, January 31, 2013

Playing Pinball

My friends, this has been the most disorganized trip stateside I've undertaken to date.

I am now Stateside, enjoying the company of my conspirators. In fact, they've made this computer available to me for whatever I might need online access for.

I can hardly grasp the idea of being here. Just 2 weeks ago I was enduring the cold Wuhan weather and poor air quality. Now, here I am in sunny Texas, divested of all my layers of clothing but for what I need to present myself decently, and I'm typing to you from my actual blog page rather than on a word document.

That much has gone right.

Actually, everything has gone as well as can be expected in spite of the lack of planning on my part. Like my lessons I prefer to have my travel well planned out, my visiting schedule arranged and my accommodations secured well in advance. No such luck on this trip.

The phone my daughter usually makes available to me made it to California the day I left... After I left. That was bothersome, more for the fact that we wondered where the phone was than my not being able to call or text anyone. Now that I'm in Texas with a full round of visiting to do, I realize how much that 10-day period of not having a phone impacted my planning ability.

Really it shouldn't have mattered whether I had a phone or not. I could have emailed everyone and set up a schedule that way. Except for Darrell's wireless network crashing on the second day I was there and not being restored till after I left. There went the Internet access. Nevertheless, I could have used Samantha's phone to call who I needed to call, except that I forgot to pack my address book that had everyone’s phone number in it. With no phone numbers, how could I make the calls I needed to make? It wouldn’t have mattered:  4 days into my visit, Sam suffered a phone service interruption. Well then, you might wonder: what about Darrell's phone? He only has his work phone, suitable for the occasional phone call but not for the extensive calling I needed to do.

And then there was my sister, the Lovely from Colorado. She agreed to meet me halfway between wherever I was and her 'where'. That turned out to be Albuquerque. IF I were going to Greyhound from Cali to Texas, as originally planned.

I didn't reckon on airfare being as low as it is during off season. In fact, Greyhound would have been pricier if not in cost then in time. So, I decided to fly everywhere instead of bus it. Why it didn't occur to me to fly into Denver instead of Albuquerque I'll never know. Now I won’t be able to meet with my sister, because she won’t be able to come to Albuquerque. She remembered no one will be available to keep her son while she is gone. You’d think she would bring the boy with her but Wyatt has a bowling tournament this weekend that he cannot get out of. Besides, they already paid the $125 entry fee.

I will be in Albuquerque by myself, where I will enjoy a day and a half of downtime. I suspect I'll need it, after all of this confusion. Now all I'll have to wonder about it where I will stay while in Albuquerque and how I'll get there. With no sister driving in, I've lost the shot at undiscriminating wheels. I'll have to find an airport shuttle to... I don't know. I don't have a hotel room yet. Hope I can get one when I get there. One that will accept cash. I don't have a credit card.  

Originally I intended to buy a prepaid credit/debit card to make all my travel reservations with, until I learned that those cards fee you to death. With Baby Bun having recently made his world debut appearance and his parents hurting for money, I reasoned it would be more equitable to pay Darrell and Sam a small fee to use their credit card rather than give a faceless and unloved entity any extra money. We put the allotted amount of money in Sam's account and I booked plane ticket after plane ticket.

That part worked very well. I just wish I had enrolled in AARP before arranging my string of plane tickets instead of after. I probably could have gotten a nice discount on my airfare.

See what I mean about disorganized?

Actually, disorganized doesn't begin to fit the way I feel. My current sentiment is that of a pinball, wildly careening from stop to stop, bumper to bumper, every so often getting electronically thumped or dumped down into pit and then being ejected to once again careen around the table and flippered up before actually hitting the exit.

And they say that Virgos are supposed to be meticulously organized. I beg to differ.

Of course I could and probably should have arranged all of my travel before even leaving China. But for a lack of credit card, a reliable connection to my daughter (who does have a credit card) and literally teaching or otherwise engaged until the day before I left Wuhan, I was not in a position to coordinate anything. In fact, I was literally still packing when the car arrived to take me to the airport. Gary was fussing about how I was packing and trying to apply my eyeshadow for me, Sam was cooking my breakfast (I hadn't eaten anything all day and it was already after noon) and I was randomly throwing things into my suitcase and backpack.

First time using the backpack Gary gifted me. Had I traveled with my faithful shoulder bag... would things have gone better? Who knows. In my shoulder bag I knew exactly where things should go and how to pack them. The backpack travels well but I'm not exactly used to it. And somewhere I have a camera charger that I just can't seem to locate.

Things that went right or came off well:

Traveling off-season. Leaving China during Spring Festival - peak travel time, was a stroke of genius. Whereas it is most difficult to secure tickets to anywhere during this time, it is easy and inexpensive to fly around America. It being off-season here, plane fares are going for pennies on the dollar and hotel rooms are discounting their accommodations

Arranging travel. Once I discovered flying would be cheaper than riding Greyhound I logged on to US Airways, which not only offered the most decent price and flexible schedule but allowed for multistop trip planning. Thanks to them have a comprehensive flight itinerary.

Securing a phone. Along with the prepaid credit card I had indulged thought on a prepaid cellphone. That would absolve my daughter from having to make a phone available to me and it possibly getting lost or delayed in the mail. My dear sister Donna ponied up the cash for a brand new prepaid phone and enough minutes to chat with whomever my heart desires while stateside. It has the added advantage of being reusable, so next year all I need to do is bring the phone and buy a new installment of minutes.   

Now, on my last uncompromised day Dallas I'm wondering who I forgot to contact or what I forgot to do while I'm here. I've retreated into the safety of writing blog entries. Dear readers, you are my respite. Thanks!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Big 4 – 0… OH!

Nobody is turning 40.

Well, that’s not true. I am sure that hundreds of people, if not hundreds of thousands or more are turning forty on the day that this is posted. However, I am not one of them, and neither are either of my conspirators. Nevertheless, let’s wish everyone celebrating their 40th a happy birthday, with many happy returns. Back to this entry now.

In fact, this entry has nothing to do with that oh-so-dreaded demarcation age of 40, but with the number 400.

Here I am, typing along, recording impressions, making observations, cultural comparisons… Occasionally getting hung up on a topic or two to the distraction of all else, sometimes battling writer’s block and having to squeeze entries out just for the sake of continuity and having something to publish. Getting a little self-absorbed at times and then reprimanding myself for it and vowing to do better. Of late having to try to find time to record anything, let alone to find things to record, for being up to my eyeballs in teaching and the minutiae thereof.

So imagine my surprise when my conspirators logged on for our weekly video chat, hunched forward excitedly, grinning like small children aboard a merry go round, and informed me that I was only 6 entries away from our 400th.

Well, knock me over with a feather, sweep me up with a dust mop and shake me out like a wet puppy. In Southern parlance: Who’da ever thunk it?

Remember: I don’t see my blog. I write and I send. My conspirators post and keep track of statistics. They forward any comments to me. Let me take a minute to thank all who take time to comment. Your feedback is appreciated. Back on topic now…   

Long ago, in the dim, dark days of 2011 – February, to be specific we posted our 100th Episode. I made a big deal of it then, saying that the only other thing I’ve done with equal continuity is raise my children. The big to-do was likened to television shows celebrating their 100th episode. And I quote, from my own blog entry of 2 years ago:

“TV shows make a big deal out of their 100th episodes. As they only produce an average of 24 episodes per season, it takes them better than 4 seasons to reach that milestone. No wonder they celebrate it!”

At the time that was written I still didn’t know if I was going to stick this ‘living in China’ gig out. Lonely, homesick, physically tortured by something that turned out to be severe allergies. Feeling the damp and cold, unremitting in my bones. Still trying to learn how to communicate, how to live in this country, eagerly gadding about behind false impressions, more often than not getting tricked or cheated… but determined to overcome all and succeed. Again, I quote: 

“Like that Bob Seeger song, ‘I’m running against the wind.’ That seems to be my nature.”

Apparently a leopard CAN change her spots. It seems I have. The wind has stilled. I’m done running. I have surrendered to the sweet love experienced only when one is truly home. After all the uncertainty in my life, all of the swallowed pain, the burning, impotent rage and moments so precious as to only be described as sublime I accept life – not just the art of existing but MY life and everything about it.

Somewhere between my first tentative entry of nearly 3 years ago – an eon it seems, and now, I have made peace with myself, my world and everyone in it.

Would I have had such a hard time doing it if my university, and indeed the city of Wuhan were then as it is now?

The Concrete Bunker that I dubiously christened ‘home’ (Welcome Home entry, September 2010), that dank, uninspiring apartment on the ground floor of the girls’ dorm that didn’t attract so much as a ray of sunshine has been abandoned in favor of this (by Chinese standards) luxurious apartment, complete with gas stove, drapes and brand new furniture. I feel so at home here, a dwelling of such positive energy that, since I moved in (September 2011) I’ve not felt compelled to move so much as a stick of furniture from where I originally placed it.

Our campus, initially small and ugly to my bourgeois eye has morphed into a genuine institution of higher learning with more students than ever before, complete with a state of the art library, professional competition quality gym and makeovers on all of the formerly decrepit buildings. Walking across campus now, one does not see a motley collection of edifices all painted different colors, all peeling and revealing concrete. Uniform is our new look. Respectable. Resplendent. Alive with academia. Young minds fervently taking their first steps toward being tomorrow’s leaders, movers and shakers. Our teachers have new purpose. They stride about campus and manage their classes with greater aplomb, with a passion made all the more fiery by our collective desire to guide our charges on the quest for their – and our tomorrow.

The Street, initially a dirt road lined with a few poor shops now rolls out from our main gate like a glossy black ribbon, its sidewalks beckoning students and long term residents alike. The trees, planted 2 years ago and lovingly wrapped in thick twine each winter to withstand the cold, have grown to make The Street a pleasant boulevard to stroll with friends, out for a meal or to eye the wares of night salespeople and shopkeepers alike.

Snack Street is still Snack Street. Some of the vendors, like that purveyor of delicious steamed treats have moved on and others, like Steamed Bun Woman and Battercake Man are iconic (see There’s a New Man on Snack Street, posted May 2011). And they’ve not even raised the price of their treats. Because I now live toward the back of the campus I do not frequent their stalls as often, usually only if/when I teach a class in a building near the gate. Nevertheless the vendors are always glad to see me and we greet each other like the old friends we are.

The main thoroughfare, formerly a rutted dirt road that could only vaguely be described as suitable for modern vehicle traffic has long been completed, as well as the overpass expressway that links the far end of the main road to the train station. Nowadays a bus does not have to fear breaking an axle and the riders do not have to bring along plastic bags to contain the product of their motion sickness brought on by the swaying of those lumbering vehicles into potholes and over excessive piles of equalizing filler. All of the bus stops are now firmly planted. No longer does one have to look for large congregations of people and wave arms about to get a bus to stop.

In Wuhan proper, the first subway line opened for transit on December 28th, 2012 at 10AM. The event made news headlines all over China. I wanted to be among the first to ride this latest of improvements in mass transit for the city but unfortunately had to be in class that day. However, Sam was on board and shared his excitement with me both via text message and later in person.

Sam relates: “On its maiden voyage a young woman had to run to board the train before the doors’ closing. She had to run so fast that her long hair streamed out behind her, ultimately getting caught in the car’s doors. Unfortunately, at any given station the platforms are either on one side or the other of the train, and at each station the car doors open only on the side of the platform. This poor young lady had to ride 9 stops before she could liberate her hair from the sealed door.”

I’ll bet that, for her, the maiden voyage is far more memorable than just the novelty of riding the metro.

Since its opening I too have ridden the metro. The stations are brightly lit and well appointed in shades of white, gray and a dusty colored pinkish-rose. Very attractive. All signage and announcements are in Chinese as well as in English. The cars reflect the stations’ color schemes. The ride is smooth, comfortable and efficient. This first subway line of Wuhan’s claims the unique distinction of traveling under the Yangtze River. It takes a little more than 3 minutes to do so.

What if my home, my school, my Street and my city had been then what it is now? Would I have felt so lonely, dislocated, and like I had made the biggest mistake of my life? Would things have been any easier for me?

It is all conjecture. What is important are the friends I’ve made – not the least being my ever deepening ties with my conspirators, whom I now call my family. Equally important is how this apartment, this university, this city feels like home. And always, ALWAYS, dear Reader, there is you. You, first and foremost.  

Yes, in spite of my ever-worsening allergies and my ever growing responsibilities, I feel like I am where I belong for the first time in my life. To quote myself, written in a long ago post:

“For better or worse, I am home.”  So surely home that I was blissfully unaware there were 400 tales to be told. And more to come.                     

No Caribou in China

I had heard or read, sometime in the distant past about the caribou predicament when the Alaskan pipeline was first run. It seems that geologists and engineers ran the line in accordance with the most economical, efficient calculations. We all know that the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. Too bad the line the engineers and geologists mapped out for the Alaskan pipeline crossed the caribou’s migration path.

When the caribou met with that obstacle they stood there, uncertain of what to do. They had never encountered anything in their way before, and certainly nothing so foreign and possibly pungent as an oil pipeline. Instead of leaping over it or seeking a way around it – if, indeed there had been a way, they stood there, freezing and starving until they died.

Is this a real remembrance or something I’ve distorted over the years? I don’t know enough about caribou migration to make a true assertion. I only use it to illustrate my point.

There are no caribou in China. More specifically, there may well be caribou, or an animal in the same family or same predicament as the caribou, but I don’t know of any.

I make this assessment based on the fact that, no matter what the obstruction, the Chinese people will circumvent it, climb over it or outright destroy whatever is in their path if that path is the one they wish to travel.

In itself, this is not a remarkable observation. I have seen it time and again, first around campus and then around town. Normally I would not write an entire entry about such a paltry happening. It was on the day it went from paltry to downright frightening that made this trend so noteworthy.

As our campus expands and new effort is made to beautify it, more and more landscaping is done: sod methodically laid and hedges are planted to cleverly conceal fences over a meter tall. Unfortunately for the grass, the hedges and the fences, if that is the path people are used to taking the grass will get trampled, the hedges will get uprooted and the fences… I’m not sure what industrious soul undertakes to destroy the fences but, within a day of being in place, all of these barriers are put asunder and the habitual path again becomes a common way from point A to point B. 

At first, self-righteously, I avoided walking on the freshly planted grass and trampling shrubs. Clearly we were not meant to walk that route anymore and obviously, someone had ideas about how things will eventually turn out. A day or so later I gave up on self righteousness because there was no more grass to trample, the hedge assault turned into a full opening for a legitimate pathway and there was nothing to be seen of the fence. See the first picture for proof. Like all my Chinese brethren I followed the shortest distance to my destination, probably much to the consternation of those planners who put all these things in place to begin with.

On campus there is temerity. Around town, people tend to be a bit more cautious.

Near the completion of the main freeway, landscapers planted monkey grass and Asian jasmine in the raised median. It is really very attractive. And then, to serve as a further deterrent to people used to crossing the highway at any point besides the crosswalks, a high fence was erected. People trampled the jasmine and the monkey grass, jumped the fence and crossed wherever they felt like it. Again, some more industrious souls laid the fence asunder and for a day or two, people followed their usual path… until they got busted by the police. Now they cross the highway at the designated crosswalks.

An unusual phenomenon? One could say that. Remarkable? Worth a whole blog entry? Probably not so much.

Until the Over the Wall Community pitched in.

For about a year they, and I have enjoyed the convenience of the unfinished construction project that, when complete will segregate their neighborhood from the school’s property. While I am sure that they benefit, I especially enjoy leaving my apartment, turning left, walking through the unfinished building and following the dirt path their feet had already trampled into submission on the fringes of the school’s property in into their community. A few minutes’ walk down a few narrow alleys and there I am, close enough to the bus stop to spit at it if I wanted to. Or, better said: I could catch a bus if I wanted to, and I usually do. That is in fact my purpose when I head to the bus stop.

Three days ago, masonry workers started bricking up all those open arches. With dread I watched as they unloaded (by hand) a truck full of concrete block, while other workers mixed big batches of concrete to use as grout. “There goes my handy shortcut off campus” I thought. With the bus stops having been moved further away and now apparently being forced to walk across campus to get to the main road, I was going to have to tack an extra 30 minutes to any travel time I might need to calculate.

Getting off campus is never a simple act for me. I cannot go from my home to the main gate or walk down The Street without being repeatedly stopped and chatted up. Not that I resent being so popular or that I mind having so many friends happy to see me every time I show my face, but sometimes a girl’s just gotta get somewhere and doesn’t have time to stop and talk! That is especially true of THIS girl, whose sense of time is a bit out of tune with the rest of the world’s. Unless I’m headed to class – the only REAL obligation on my time, I am usually running late for everything from a dinner invitation to a shopping date.  

To my luck and benefit, all of the open archways were bricked up in the vacant building, save one. I breathed a sigh of relief, even while knowing the reprieve was going to be short lived. I know the OTW community people also enjoy their walks on campus and bricking that wall entirely is not something that they are looking forward to, or even something they want. I’m sure they’ll make themselves heard. After all: if people trample grass, hedges and fences, doesn’t it clearly demonstrate that planners should not mess with known walking paths? Why don’t these planners just take the people’s wants into consideration instead of putting things in the people’s way, only to see their efforts get flattened?

That dreaded moment arrived this morning. People’s desires notwithstanding, that last archway was bricked up. When it was finished the workers scooped the rest of the concrete mix into the back of their truck, threw in the remaining blocks and bricks and drove away. I brewed my tea and mourned my easy path off campus being permanently sealed off.

But only for a few hours. When I left the house this afternoon I glanced over my left shoulder, partly out of habit but mostly out of longing for the good ole days, when I could sneak off-campus unseen. I stopped dead in my tracks. Someone, or maybe a few someones had knocked the most recently closed archway’s brickwork down, reopening the path. And they didn’t do it nicely, either. Just look closely at the picture to see the jagged edges and the non-methodical way the blocks are broken and bashed out.  

Talk about determination! I could see trampling a few bits of greenery and a hedge or two, maybe even taking down a fence, as sturdy as they are here. But a brick wall? People must REALLY want to walk this path to justify taking down a wall.

And that is why I write an entire entry dedicated to what I call ‘the caribou effect’. Or, more specifically the reverse of the caribou effect. Let it be known far and wide that if the Chinese wish to follow a certain path, no amount of grass, bush, fence or, apparently brick walls will stop them.

Perhaps the Chinese government is right now planning a group of delegates to go teach the caribou how to not let something as puny as a pipeline stand in their way.            


Sunday, January 6, 2013

I Have Gas… and Other Novelties

Yes, I have gas and it is not a case that any amount of Gas-X or Beano can cure. And I’m happy about it.

I have been the sole resident of this apartment complex for over a year. The school rushed to get me accommodated here immediately after the Great Rat Romance, when said rat promenaded up my leg while I was asleep (See ‘The Rat Party’, posted September 2011). I did not enjoy Mr. Rat taking liberties with my leg, or indeed my living quarters. 

All that is just a memory now. Since then I’ve lived with unfinished projects, noise and ongoing dust, all manifestations of living in a construction zone. I did not mind. I was, and still am grateful for the concern the school administrators have shown for my safety, health and well-being.

Because I was the lone resident here, many things went undone and many more that were hastily done had to be redone. The first few nights here I had no hot water because the water lines had been routed to a rooftop solar water heating unit that hadn’t been installed and was never supposed to be installed. My water heater is in my bathroom. The plumbing crew had to connect my water lines properly. They were convinced of that only after a loud argument between our campus maintenance team and the plumbing contractor, who had to be dragged 6 flights of stairs to the roof to see the lake on the roof caused by my futilely running water in an attempt to take a shower.

Last year I reported a water leak in the wall between my kitchen and dining room. It was as plain as the nose on my face: the concrete and whitewash bubbled out. A multicolored crop of mold was growing. Furthermore, all along the water line was evidence of leakage. The remedy was to scrape the wall clean of its fuzzy coat of mold, whitewash and loose, wet concrete, and then reapply concrete and whitewash, after tightening a plug for a water outlet in the kitchen that will eventually feed my gas water heater. That pipe is now leaking again. This time I enlisted Sam to help me explain to the maintenance team that tightening every water plug in the house will do nothing to stop this leaking – possibly broken pipe. The complex manager assured Sam and me that he would be back with a wrench to change out that plug and then they’ll get right on that wall. *Sigh!*    

Since I’ve lived in this complex, over a year now, I’ve been cooking on my electronic hotplate and the grill I bought at Metro. Both of these appliances rest on the gas stove imbedded into my countertop, one per burner. The built-in stove is very nice: brand new, with a black glass finish and gleaming gas jets and a gas line neatly coiled in the cabinet below, connected to nothing. I was OK with that. Since I’ve lived in China all I’ve had is an electronic hotplate, and I’ve learned to make do with it, even preparing enough food for the occasional dinner party I’d host. I did long for a gas connection but… ‘One day’ I kept telling myself. ‘One day’ as I watch gas lines being run outside the building into every apartment including mine. Several months ago workmen came to install my gas meter. I added ‘soon’ to my ‘one day’ litany. My eternal optimism got severely tested by all those ‘one day’s. 

My friends, that day has finally come! All of my ‘one day’s have come true on this day, the day my gas line was finally connected.

Connected by a very handsome man, uncharacteristically tall for being Chinese, I might add. (I thought about keeping him and even confessed so to Sam. He laughed at me.)

Cooking with gas is vastly different than using a hotplate. For one there is sensible heat: an actual flame heats the whole pot, not just the portion in contact with the ceramic from the hotplate. Fortunately I have oven mitts. The first few times I touched the pot while cooking, I burned my hands.

The food cooks much faster and tastes different. I did have to learn to adjust the flame – with the hotplate, the temp adjusted itself according to its cunning little sensors that ruined more than one meal by increasing intensity, even after I manually set it the way I needed it.  

Food stays much warmer when cooked over a flame – a valuable concession as my apartment temp currently hovers around 6 degrees Celsius (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit). I still can’t enjoy leisurely eating because my dinner will get cold quickly but at least now I don’t have to gulp it down, like I did when using the hotplate.

Keep your Gas-X. I’ll keep my gas. Next step is my gas water heater, scheduled for sometime in the future. I’m not even going to sing a chorus of ‘one day’ for it. I’m just happy I can finally cook properly and have 2 burners to do it on.  

Over the past few months more and more residents have been settling into their new homes. The complex is starting to become a community. Several of my colleagues have moved in, Chris and Julia and Baby Eddie among them. Everyone seems to prefer apartments toward the back of the complex, further away from campus. Until recently I was still the lone resident in my building at the front of the complex, save for Victor – but he doesn’t count being as he doesn’t actually reside here.

A few weeks ago the complex manager sold a unit in my building. Now I have neighbors who live on the 5th floor. After a frenzy of banging, sawing and drilling, and workmen of all type running up and down the stairs the grand day came when my neighbors moved in. We exchanged pleasant greetings, with me welcoming them and them pushing me out of the way so they could get their refrigerator upstairs.

My whole time here I’ve lived with dirt blowing freely through the stairwell, construction dust and debris drifting or being thrown out of unfinished apartment windows above and dirty, muddy footprints right outside my door. Most times the landing in front of my apartment was so dirty I had to sweep it or clean it several times a day. In spite of my efforts it still looked terrible. What could I do with construction work going on? I couldn’t sweep the whole stairwell – 6 flights, to prevent dust from cascading down, and I certainly couldn’t forbid workmen from walking past my doorway, being as mine is the very first apartment leading upstairs. I got in the habit of just cleaning my little portion: from the entryway to my apartment.

One day I opened my door to see the entire stairwell sparkling clean. WOW!! The same women who sweep our campus have been contracted to keep the apartment building stairwells clean as well. What a pleasure it is to see a nice, clean stairwell and to not be plagued by dust and mosquitoes every time I open my door!

The stairwell cleaning didn’t start until my new neighbors moved in upstairs. Nor did the increased security measures.

More than a few times when arriving home late I found myself locked out of my building. The stairwell door had a latch and a locking mechanism, but the lock itself had been removed. There had been a lock, briefly, and I had a key to it but it never did work very well and was eventually removed. At day’s end the workmen felt confident in latching the stairwell entrance, totally forgetting the lone resident of the building who might need to get in. My only way into the building was to climb the stairs in the neighboring stairwell, cross over the roof and climb back down 6 flights of stairs to my place.

Strange that the neighboring stairwell, with a working lock and no residents was always left open while the stairwell with a broken lock and a resident always got latched shut.

One night, after being locked out for the umpteenth time, appealing for help from Sam, and then the community maintenance supervisor (who told me he just climbs the other stairs and crosses the roof, as I had been doing when locked out), I decided to take matters into my own hands. I removed the latch. Proud of my small act of vandalism, for the next 3 weeks I gloated that I would never again be locked out of my own home.

And then my neighbors moved in. Apparently their complaints and security concerns have more weight than mine. Probably because they are paying customers and I’m a freeloader. It was only after they moved in that gas was finally pumped to my building, the stairwell was cleaned and is now maintained, and that the entrance door is fixed with a new, working lock installed.  

It doesn’t matter how it all came about. I have gas (YAY!), a clean stairwell (YIPPEE!), a secured building (YAHOO!), a water leak (BOO!) and other novelties.                 

Yesterday, Once More?

Yes, in China it is Yesterday Once More. It seems that a lot of the songs popular in my youth are just now charting in China.

The first year I was here and had to fumble for things to do in the classroom, I resorted to song lyrics. John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ was the song of choice, seeing as the students wanted to go home and I was missing everyone and everything I had left behind. It dovetailed nicely with Thanksgiving, Christmas and the whole ‘being home with loved ones’ sentiment. I had no idea it was already an airwave mainstay over here, having been covered by a famous Korean chanteuse. Again I credit Serendipity’s gentle hand.

When Titanic made the scene here in its re-release from 10 years ago, it was all I could do to keep the kids from humming Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ throughout class. I took them to task by having them sing it, chorus style. They called my bluff by doing a beautiful job of it. Of course, they had to look at the lyrics they had downloaded to their cellphones. I don’t begrudge them that small cheat. In the end a good time was had by all, and that is all that matters.

Richard Marx’s song, ‘Waiting for You’ is now on the lips of every Chinese schoolgirl dreaming of romance. It was a staple back in the ‘80s, when I too was young and a romantic hopeful. I can relate to these girls. And I’ll add that, back in the 80’s, with that full head of hair and gruff voice I thought Richard Marx was quite the hottie. I’d have waited for him… *sigh!* Well, as long as I’m going down memory lane, I may as well share all of these memories!

Now we have The Carpenters’ Yesterday Once More. Ironic! For me, now regularly tuning in to Chinese radio stations and hearing all of these old favorites, it really is as the song says. From its very first line – “When I was young I’d listen to the radio, waiting for my fav’rite songs. When they’d play I’d sing along, they made me smile…” to the last ‘Shoobie Doo Wah!’ it is like a musical window to the past has been opened.

My students are impressed that I know all the words to all of these songs. In their eyes I’m a really hip, cool teacher to stay in touch with the times! When I tell them all the songs they are now just discovering are actually songs from my youth, and that I still remember all the words to them some thirty-plus years later, their reactions vary between being nonplussed to being in awe. They thought they were on to original, never-before-experienced-in-the-history-of –the-world sentiment! Their generation alone was exploring such deep matters of the heart! I hated to burst their bubble… kinda.

And now there is that Korean hit, Gangnam Style. For weeks it was all I heard about. Even Sam told me how impressive it is. I had to see this phenomenon for myself.

Come to find out, the Gangnam Style rhythm and dance moves are not new either. They’ve been done before, albeit a bit more tamely, in Grease: that scene where John Travolta and Olivia Newton John take the floor at the dance contest. I laughed like a loon, sitting in front of my terminal, watching the mock horse riding moves the dancers executed.

All of this ‘yesterday’ revisiting the airwaves here makes me feel like bursting out into a chorus of Barry Manilow’s “Maybe the Old Songs”. Maybe…

Maybe Barry has yet to be discovered over here. He can enjoy his forty-plus year career span all over again. Would he want to?