Carol Ann Nix
Copyright 2014 © Carol Ann Nix All rights reserved
Morel’s caters primarily to Westerners, and our table was set accordingly – no chopsticks. We weren't in a finger lickin’ sort of place, so I taught Yo the proper use of the good ole knife, fork, and spoon. He wanted to learn, but it was slow going. I thought the poor guy would starve while cutting chicken off the breastbone on his plate.
Yo is certainly easy on the eyes. He asked me to dinner again on Wednesday. It's my only available evening this week. I hope he doesn’t have a meeting that runs late. The Chinese are big on meetings that extend well beyond regular office hours. Lucky for me, only Chinese teachers are required to attend. There are advantages to being an American teacher at Fanzhidu School.
Am tired now. While it’s good morning for you, it’s good night for me. The time difference between us is twelve hours. When I’m going to bed you’re starting a new day. Mind-boggling.
Email from Anna
October 31, 2009
Dear Carol – I know you’re delighting in every new person and in each new experience. I’m sure the Chinese are crazy about you already. No surprise. You have a gift for touching hearts.
I love the detailed accounts of your life in Beijing. I'm living vicariously through your experiences, so here's a request. Would you consider writing a journal and sending me periodic updates? That way I won't miss any of your adventures! What do you think? xoxo anna
Email from Carol
November 1, 2009
I love your journaling idea. I'll email you Beijing Updates containing bundles of journal entries. I did something similar for my mom during the summer after graduating from college. My French professor arranged a job for me as a governess with a French family in Paris. I was a wide-eyed tourist for a week. After that I traveled with my French family to their summer home in Erquy, a small seaside fishing and resort village in the province of Brittany. I kept a journal on lined notebook paper and mailed entries home every week or so. No personal computers or emails back then. Mom kept every page. I still have the complete France journal in a green folder on a bookshelf.
My new China journal will be about hearts – Chinese hearts touching my heart – and mine touching theirs. I'm experiencing many facets of love here and will write about all of them. The journal will document highlights of my life as it evolves here in Dragonland. Writing will be a labor of love. As you read the entries, I hope you will come to know and love the Chinese people as I do. We are so much more alike than different. For those who oppose Communism, I can make one statement unequivocally. The fact that China is a Communist country does not compromise the good hearts of her people. This I know.
Messages from you are sweet reminders of my other world back in the States, as many of my Chinese friends call the U.S. Revel in your family, your friends, and your art while I’m away. Enjoy every moment – as I am. We will rejoice in our reunion next summer. My journal begins tomorrow. Are you ready? Here we go.
Email from Carol
October 30, 2009
I’m alive and well in Beijing. Been here over two weeks. My new Chinese students at Fanzhidu School are already dear to my heart. They are respectful, kind, and friendly. They are quick to laugh and eager to learn. What teacher could ask for more? I am passionate about helping these young men and women fulfill their shared dream of attending Valparaiso University in the U.S. next fall. As my new students often say, “I will try my best.”
My Chinese teacher colleagues are delightful. I hope they become lifelong friends. Every Friday is activity day at school. Last week we hiked up a rugged mountain north of Beijing. After the rigorous trek, we relaxed alongside a placid river, and students barbequed our lunch. I ate seaweed soup – a culinary first. After returning to school, the male teachers and students played basketball. Our team beat a rival by fifty-five points. Yo gets credit for the lopsided victory. He is a tall, handsome teacher from Inner Mongolia, the northernmost region in China. His English name is Donald, but I call him Yo because Donald is too plain a name for him and because, for the life of me, I can't pronounce his complicated Chinese name.
Would I have touched toe in China had I foreseen being stranded on a train – in a blizzard – on the grassland of Inner Mongolia? Absolutely! Why? Because I was trapped with the most intriguing man in China. Let me begin my story with Anna who sent a bon voyage email while I was airborne bound for Beijing.
Email from Anna
October 13, 2009
Dear Carol ‒ There you are ‒ lawyer and university professor – on your way to China to teach college students in Beijing. Here I am ‒ wife, mother, and grandmother – a happy American homebody. These are my callings. We are both Indiana women, but your wide wings wrap around the world. I'm proud of you and cheer you every step of the way. I'll keep the Midwest home fires burning brightly for my adventurous friend. Follow your heart, make true friends, and enjoy a year of amazing experiences. xoxo anna
November 2, 2009
I love Beijing and am feeling right at home now. During the first days I was contemplating a speedy retreat to North America. Not now. Wouldn't miss this gig for the world. Classes are great. Students are remarkable. I even get a vigorous stair-step workout several times a day, because classrooms and offices are located on the fourth floor – and there's no elevator.
Yo has become a special friend. He is the most splendid man I have ever met – very traditional – very honorable. We're together most of every teaching day, because he's my assistant and classroom interpreter. Yo is too young for anything besides a best buddy – probably! For some silly reason, he admires the heck out of me.
It snowed like mad yesterday – the earliest snow in Beijing in twenty-two years. Not one snowflake fell last year, so I didn’t bother bringing winter boots. Major mistake. Looks like I unwittingly lassoed a Midwest winter and dragged it along to the Orient.
Cali (short for California) is a Fanzhidu student. He was born in Beijing and lives here. That makes him a Beijinger. Cali invited me to lunch and to sightsee on the morning of the snowstorm. We braved the elements, and he ordered a feast for us at a traditional Chinese restaurant. Way too much food. The Chinese never want a guest to leave the table hungry. Besides, I think Cali was trying to impress me. He did.
After lunch we walked to Yonghe Lama Temple – a famous Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastery near our restaurant. Cali was my personal tour guide. We bowed three times and burned incense sticks in front of a Buddha statue. Later in the day we passed street vendors, and Cali insisted I eat "stinky tofu.” It smelled like manure, but it tasted delicious. I had fun – but froze every cell of my body.
November 4, 2009
It's November and nippy, but there's no heat in China. The government sets the "heat on" date in the fall and the “heat off” date in the spring. Wen Wen said officials will flip the proverbial “on switch” sometime this month. The sooner, the better. We’re having a blue-lip cold spell. Americans would storm the White House if our government controlled thermostats. This is the first clear indication that I'm living in a Communist country.
Snow has covered the ground for four days. You can imagine how cold it is in my apartment and in school. Brrrrr! In class I wear a knee-length down coat and a wool hat. The worst is squatting in the school bathroom. Western toilets are scarce in China. I pull down my jeans, squat over what looks like a narrow-ish, rectangular porcelain sink in the floor, and do whatever. Shockingly cold on the privates.
My escapade with Cali had consequences – the flu. I'm home with a fever. Because of the current H1N1 epidemic, a security guard at the school gate takes everyone’s temperature every morning. No one with a fever sets foot inside the building – no exceptions. Hope I don’t have H1N1!
So many Kodak moments here. Whether I capture them on camera or not, they are forever embedded in my heart.
My apartment is new and spacious. Wen Wen arranged everything. Wen Wen is my best Chinese lady friend in Beijing. I met her in 2008 when I first taught here for three weeks and shared her apartment. Now I live in her uncle's apartment. In the U.S. we would call it a condominium, but the Chinese call it an apartment or house. The uncle will give the apartment to his daughter when she marries. She doesn't even have a boyfriend now, but Chinese parents plan carefully for the future of their children.
I share the apartment with Liz, a fellow Valparaiso University professor. Liz will return to the U.S. in December. I'm not accustomed to living with creatures other than my cats, so I’m curious as to how this roommate thing will pan out. Liz and I pay a nice Chinese lady $4.50 to clean our apartment once a week. It’s the going rate. Can you imagine! I will give her a raise.
Except for Liz, all my colleagues and students at Fanzhidu School are Chinese. They use English names to help us Americans who are either too lazy or too inept to remember Chinese names. I'll place myself in the inept category. Just can’t master pronouncing the likes of “Zhang Zhiyao."
I'm getting around by myself on buses and subways these days – but only between my apartment, school, and the Fanzhidu main office at Hong Kong Macau Center where Wen Wen and other administrators work. The first time I commuted to school alone, I felt like a little kid heading off to kindergarten – excited and full of nervous energy.
Connecting to the Internet remains a challenge. No Net at school. The IT guy up and quit. Wen Wen is arranging service in my apartment. I'm writing this email from one of the many Starbucks in Beijing – happy to be using its Wi-Fi for the price of a cup of oolong tea. Yo will meet me here soon. We clicked. We're best buds already. Ah, bye for now – all six feet of him just walked through the Starbucks door.
Love from Dragonland,
Email from Anna
October 30, 2009
Dear Carol ‒ I’m happy you're settling in and loving your new life. You remind me of the old Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You'll Go! It’s about time for me to do my weekly Cinderella chores. Could use your cleaning lady. At $4.50 per session, who would be without? You seem a galaxy away. Miss you. xoxo anna
Email from Carol
October 31, 2009
Remember when Yo met me at Starbucks? From there we set out to find a dinner restaurant. Neither of us was familiar with the area, and it was raining, so we dashed inside the first inviting eatery. Morel’s had a cozy European atmosphere. The host seated us at a table for two. After looking at the menu, I knew the food was too expensive for Yo. Beginning Chinese English teachers are paid a pittance. He would have lost face if we had left, so we stayed. I offered to help with the bill, but he wouldn’t allow me to pay even 1 yuan. Already I know the worst thing for a Chinese man or woman is to lose face.