As I continue to go backwards to go forwards I am thinking about our upcoming trip and think I might just have to take a break from going backwards to get up to speed with where the girls are heading come Monday. So I will post this piece and a few others, but then I’ll post about the latest. Hey, if Doctor Who can do the whole wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing then I figure I can within the confines of this blog as well!
But first, a post continuing the start of our adventure in China…
Welcome to day one in China. We arrived yesterday to fog and drizzle. What a delight to be met at the airport by two young ladies (introduced as Christina and Kelly) who are graduate students and assigned to my mom for her time here while she does workshops and lectures. How nice not to have to navigate the train or the buses, but have a car waiting to take us from Shanghai to Nanjing. The flight was uneventful and very long. It was good to be in another sitting position. A. a fell asleep, though she did try and stay awake to see the parts of Shanghai that we could from the motorway but her heavy eyelids finally won out over her curious nature. I found myself fast asleep more than once on the trip up though I don’t remember having intentionally shut my eyes! That, my friends, is tired.
I did waken for the last part of the trip in Nanjing and tried, in the dark and the wet, to see if I could recognize streets and buildings. It’s been 12 years since the last visit so there are new buildings, new shops, so much new. But we finally turned down a road that was familiar and there was the MacDonald’s by the front gate of the university, which I understand is only used for vehicles these days. Then we turned and drove past the open air market which was closing down for the evening and there were the escalators up and down from the grocery store that was so familiar to me in my teaching days at Nan Shi Da. Then a turn and another and we were driving up to the complex of flats where we will be living for the next weeks and there was mum/grammy standing in a halo of light and mist looking out for us and things seemed like home.
Six flights of stairs later and four huffing and puffing people carrying luggage later we were ensconced in the flat that will be ours while we are here. It’s been a bit out of use and with the rain the old cigarette use is leaching out of the living room, but these things can be remedied once we’ve been given a day of sun to air and a few choice cleaning products. Until then there is plenty of allergy medication on hand to help with the sinus reactions the stale smoke is already inducing.
Our first morning brings rain – lots of torrential rain. I knew I should have tried to fit my wellies in! Ah well. At least I got our rain coats in and there’s an extra umbrella in the flat to use until we can get our own. It would be great to get out and explore, but on a day like today jet-lagged people tend to be cranky and grouchy rather than up for adventures. So, we’ll hope that the rain eventually decides to slow down and let up so that we can get out and stretch our legs a bit and I can get the lay of the land until I can get a good street map to help with the exploration parts of life here in this changed city.
Here are a few pics of the flat, more to come as the days move on…
Zhè shì zhōngguó (this is China)
This is an expression that expats learn pretty quickly on their first trip over to work or study or spend anytime at all other than strictly tourist trips. Folk use it when things don’t go the way they would elsewhere in the world and you can’t wrap your head around why things are done the way they are in China. Eventually you learn to shrug your shoulders and say the mantra, Zhè shì zhōngguó. It helps relieve getting over stressed about life in general in China. To A. this expression took on new meaning on our second day as we ventured out in the rain. To her is means a free license to do the things she can’t get away with at home. Hmm. It’s enough being told you have to be careful with the water, you have to be careful about putting your hands in your mouth when you’ve been on a bus, you have to watch out for bicycles, motorbikes, scooters, cars, buses, people and other moving things when walking because traffic rules aren’t always followed and sometimes people aren’t as nice as we’d like them to be.
Next day we had a good example of how things sometimes operate to the disadvantage of expats and really to the worker of China. We ventured out to a shop called Carrefour, a French joint venture that had opened when I was on my way out from China when I lived here from 1999 – 2000, for a few of the things we thought we’d need during our time here. The flat is well equipped, but there are always a few things that you feel like you need from home to help. It’s true for any culture. It’s not that you want where you to be anything other than what it is culturally, it’s just there are usually a few things from home that it’s nice to have to help you adjust and to feel more comfortable in the transition to life away from all you know so well. We got on our bus, got there fine, started looking around for the things that were on the list and thought maybe we should double check about the use of a credit card – no worries, we take credit cards. So, we got all the things on the list. Next was the credit card “fiasco”. America is behind the rest of the world in the use of a chip in their credit cards. This seemed to be a problem that was insurmountable for the cashier. The machine had number buttons on it, there was even a way to type in the credit card number into the machine, but she knew one way to do things and deviating from this one way seemed to be too much for the young woman. We ended up with a group of 5 or 6 workers, the manager around us trying to tell us we had the wrong card and there was nothing to be done. We, on the other side, couldn’t understand how they couldn’t have anyone on staff that spoke a bit of English or couldn’t think beyond the one way of doing things that they had. There was no thought to call the credit card company to see what might be done, there was no thought of punching in the credit card number into the machine – nothing. We were about to just leave everything and go when there was the suggestion of the ATM at the end of the shop. So off I went to see if maybe I could take out enough to “bail us out”. Hooray! I was and we were able to leave with our items – just. Then there was the next hurdle – a taxi to get home. We’d used all the cash we had, so now what? Aha, some US currency was found and a bank was found and an exchange, unofficial, was made and we managed to find a taxi that would take us back to our flat. Then came the walk up to the top floor – whew! That all took more time than it should have – about 4 hours. There are good lessons to learn through it all. You can get things done if you allow yourself to think outside of the immediately possible.
Dinner found us over to the canteen on campus. So much has changed since my days there. At some point the longings of the past are set aside for the present. My time here all those years ago was lovely and aggravating, tough and painful, but all mine. Most of the people I knew here then have gone on to other places – back home, off to other countries, other adventures – which makes things a bit tough, but there is still plenty to enjoy and explore. This time is special in that I get to share a place with my daughter. How often does that happen?