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.                     

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