Yesterday, what a perfect example of the ‘Lion-Lamb-March Weather Myth,’ being true! These are the kinds of things I’m am a close observer of…Nature. I don’t watch the weather report on TV. I observe the sky, the clouds, the birds, the trees… They’re a much better prognosticator, if you’ve observant.
Thus, the 1st of March I observed the weather in Kashigar, which was mild, warm and Spring like. I made a note to do the same at the end of the month, as in ‘If March comes in like a ‘lamb,’ it departs like a lion,’ and sure enough it happened that way this year in Xinjiang Province, China. March came in like a lamb and left like a lion! A storm blew into Uremqi and dumping a couple hundred millimeters of snow! This reminding me of how, at the same latitude in Colorado halfway around the world, it can do the very same thing (late winter snow storm). It started with rain in the morning, but turned to big flakes coming down most of the day! I loved it! Now, the hills west of Uremqi covered in a new clean white dress!
‘Snow,’ in Pinyin Chinese is ‘yue,’ the given name of my friend Ms. Zhao in Shang Hai. But, try to pronounce this…? In Chinese, ‘¬? Maybe… Again, the daunting part of learning the Chinese language… ‘Yue,’ being a homophone , can mean several things like, ‘learning everything,’ depending on how it’s pronounced.
‘Yu,’ (‘yue’ without the ‘e’) means ‘rain’ in Pinyin Chinese. But, it too has many meanings depending on the pronunciation—‘yu’ another homophone.
Thus, my Chinese friend, James Zhu and I are writing a book about the Chinese language entitled, ‘Chinese, the Language of Homophones.’ Think about it, and a fact that initiated my interest… 1.3 billion population, only 400 syllables in the language! That’s one syllable for every 3,250,000 people! Whereas, English has thousands of syllables. Thus, no need for so many homophones!
I find the Chinese language interesting, even though I can’t speak/write it very well! Maybe too late for me to learn at 66-years of age! The number ‘6’ lucky in Chinese—maybe the reason for my having such good…?
By the way, with no ‘religion’ (per se) in China, the Chinese tend to be very ‘superstitious’… Interesting… If no ‘religion’ in a culture something else, in this case ‘superstition.’ People always have to deal with the unknown, something that governments, no matter how hard they try, can’t eradicate. People have to find some way to deal with the unknown.
We’ve (Tom #1’ and I) have been having a wonderful time in Uremqi.
Speaking of ‘superstition’… Was I ‘lucky’ to meet him, or was this by divine order. Chinese people would probably describe it as ‘luck,’ but I believe the latter. He’s the young ‘assistant’ I’ve been looking for, for the past twenty years! Someone, bright, reliable, even caring. He does everything for me, spoiling me of course. He wants to carry all my burdens, take care of all the details… He won’t even let me pay him (although I do)! I’ll soon grow dependent on him! ‘Where’s Tom? ’ When he wants to carry my packages, or backpack, or whatever, I try to explain to him, ‘I appreciate very much all your help! But, what if you’re not there? In the meantime, you’ve weakened me. If you’re not there to carry whatever, I’ll be less inclined, or unable to do so myself. So, please, let me carry and do whatever! When I’m too old, then yes, I’ll need your physical strength!’ He understood, a very bright and handsome young Chinese man!
Girls, you’re missing out (check out his photographs at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery ‘Tom in Uremqi’)! Xu Tan, is his name in Chinese, and originally from around Xi’an, one of China’s most well known cities because of the Terra Cotta Soldiers (Museum now).
I’m very impressed with the Han Chinese, of which Tom is one… The ethnic groups, not so much: same old cultural ‘problem’ when working with them: more interested in ‘singing and dancing,’ than being on time—basically unreliable! All of this based, not on prejudice, but on experience, having been in China almost one year.
What have Tom and I been doing in Uremqi, besides preparing for Rotraut’s arrival on April 1st? Just having fun, basically! Of course, there are some tasks: giving money to beggars on the streets, getting my Toshiba repaired (ah, success!), shopping for another computer, getting online (at Cyber Club), eating, meeting friends (or trying to), taking care of all the things I had on my list to do in Uremqi. One was speaking to my Chinese friend Mike Lei’s son’s class .
So, last Wednesday, Mike drove Tom and I to the ‘Uremqi First of August Middle School.’ I was to give a ‘lecture,’ to some English classes (although one is never quite clear after a Chinese explanation). We were early and walked around the campus, more like a ‘Junior College,’ than a ‘Middle School,’ for one thing with an enrollment of 10,000 students!
Many were playing basketball (now with Yao playing for the Houston Rockets in the U.S., very popular), table tennis, and I saw one group of girls playing ‘Blind man’s bluff!’ I suppose there are computers in the school, but these kids don’t need expensive toys (the hoops have no nets). I noticed the tables for ping pong, ‘nets’ made of metal (to endure no doubt).
We entered the main building, a huge modern structure, where we were to meet the ‘Head Master.’ There we were greeted by Chinese students on each side of the door, one side female, the other male, bowing simultaneously as we passed. Can you imagine this in the U.S.? Such respect?
I followed Mike up and down many stairs, and into many hallways. Finally, we were ushered into the Head Master’s office, a commodious affair of some import (very well furnished with art on the walls). This middle-aged Chinese woman, smartly dressed in long skirt and short hair welcomed me in good English! She explained about the classes, which I had imagined smaller, but should have guessed… Everything is large (‘big’) in China!
When the time came we walked down many more halls and climbed more stairs until I was directed into the ‘standard’ classroom, but this one packed with teenage students (male and female) dressed in their ‘workout’ uniforms. It had a podium on a dais, with green (not black) board.
Wow! Suddenly I was faced with over 60 young Chinese, all eager to hear from me! ‘Luckily’ (I wonder if this is the proper word?) I have much experience teaching, and so no problem. Once I’d been introduced, I told them about me, my cycling to China, why I was there, about America as they’re very curious and soon there were hands up, wanting to know. And their English was good enough in most cases to understand. The only problem I have is hearing them, so I either went to them, or asked them to come closer.
They were attentive and respectful, and most unlike any class in the U.S. where you have to demand or cajole teenage students to listen. Best of all they asked intelligent questions.
One I won’t forget… This after my explaining about me: Why I wasn’t married and have no children of my own. That what is important to me is ‘freedom,’ not a family of my own. This struck a ‘note’ with one boy in the back, and he came alive. He explained that I must be ‘the God,’ and came to write such on the board. I was amazed, as he articulated that he felt the same way, but no one understands him! What a moment! I was so pleased as this is what I’m trying to do, empower youth--to help them express themselves, no matter what!
And I was honest about America, the war in Iraq which I oppose, and the reason I will never be returning (to the U.S.). Of course, this amazed them! ‘What? Never return to the land of your ancestors?’ Unheard of, as they can’t fathom such! Why? I tried to explain, but mitigated it by saying I am ‘bored’ with American culture (the truth).
I explained my diet, and the fact I’m a vegetarian. All of this they probably had never heard before from any adult, an American no less!
One girl asked me if I knew about Mao Zedong? Actually, I may know more about him than they do, as when I mentioned ‘Mao’s ‘Little Red Book,’ none seemed to know. However, my host knew, Mike Lei, but he’s 43-years of age (can remember the old China). I also mentioned Deng Xiaopeng (to me the ‘Father of Modern China’).
I explained I am a Taoist and about Taoism! Again, amazing to me as I’ve discovered I know more about Taoism than most Chinese (at least the multitudes). No one had heard of Lao Tzu! However, when I drew the symbol of ‘yin and yang’ on the board, they recognized it, exclaiming loudly!
About Confucius (different word in Chinese) they seemed to know little. Then explaining one of his tenets, that: ‘People should not talk while eating!’ they didn’t know how to respond (as they probably can’t fathom). Thus, I acted out young, modern Chinese rushing about focused on their mobiles while eating and talking simultaneously! Of course, this got a laugh!
I’m combining-describing both classes here, but there were two separate, the second a walk from the first. Actually, I appreciated the second class better, but I can’t tell you why… Maybe they were more attentive, and maybe there were better questions.
One student asked me about acting, if I was a good ‘actor?’ I responded by saying, ‘You’ll have to be the judge, as I’m ‘acting’ now!’
But, two classes 45-minutes in length each is enough for this old man. Teaching, ‘acting’ in front of people requires much energy! So, when music played in the hall outside, ‘the bell’ indicating the class was over, I was glad!
But, here’s the difference between classes in the U.S. and China. Had this been the U.S., there would have been an explosion out the door, at the first sound of the ‘bell!’ Here, they didn’t move until officially ‘released,’ by the Head Master.
Students in China have been trained to be respectful of teachers, and/or speakers, and I so appreciated. You go ahead and teach in the U.S., I’ll teach in China any day and for free! Note: Mike Lei had asked me about wanting a fee for my time. But, I said ‘no thank you,’ of course, honored to be asked.
And the most amazing thing of all of the experience! At the end of the second class I was literally ‘mobbed’ for autographs! This has never happened to me before , thus somewhat disconcerting, as I didn’t know what to write. Then I got the an idea and wrote the following, maybe twenty times or more, ‘YOU WILL SUCCEED! HAQI’
Back in the Head Master’s office she gave me a small gift, a pen (knowing I am a writer!). Her parting words to me, ‘You are always welcome back here, at ‘Uremqi First August Middle School!’ I told her I would return for more, this after renewing my visa in June (one never knows about renewing visas in any country).
How wonderful the Han Chinese are! I am happy in China, particularly Xinjiang Province!
(‘Haqi,’ one of ‘our’ many names!)