Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On to Nanjing

Today was a travel day. Since I was still waking up at some unGodly hour (4, 5 a.m.), I went out for another long walk, then came back and headed for the airport. I was wholly unprepared because I hadn't learned any important or useful vocabulary (such as "China Airlines"), so the arrival at the Beijing Airport resulted in a dialogue—more like two independent monologues—between one person speaking horrible Chinese (me) and one person speaking only Chinese (the cabdriver). He got a bit hostile, one of the few times I experienced that the entire time I was in China. Finally, he just let me off, and I walked to where I needed to go, to check in and get rid of my bag.

The Beijing airport is pretty boring. And expensive. I had gotten there so early I had 4 hours or so to kill, which I first tried to do by drinking coffee. Since it was about $8/cup, I decided to write some postcards, then just read a bit and watched a lot. Sitting around China, for me, was kind of like going to an endless movie: always something new (if only Hanzi to try and read), always fascinating.

The flight to Nanjing was uneventful, except when I squirted Thousand Island Dressing all over the leg of the gentleman who had the bad luck of sitting within my range. He seemed suprised, but not particularly upset, when I started rubbing his leg with a napkin.

I was picked up at the Nanjing Airport (which turned out to be the only time I saw it) by Cheng Xu, who spoke excellent English. We took the long drive to Nanjing DaShue, or Nanda as I learned (the hard way) it was called, where I would be teaching. My apartment was much bigger than I anticipated, with a large bedroom and three beds, a decent sized kitchen, a living room, and a lovely Western bathroom with a shower. I also had a porch (the view from which is pictured above).

I was, at that point, pretty much on my own. I looked around, tried to get the TV to work (in vain), and then there was a knock on the door, from Sophie. Another liaison between foreign teachers and Nanda, she asked me why I hadn't answered the phone, at which point we discovered I had no phone to answer. She also explained to me that I wouldn't be able to pronounce her real (Chinese) name, so I actually never heard it. I would have at least given it a shot.

She took me across the street to a restaurant, that I think was sort of the official restaurant for faculty and visitors, although I never got clear on it. I ended up eating there three times, and each time it was excellent; in terms of Zhong Guo Fan (Chinese Food), it turned out to be one of the best places I ate. Enormous amounts of food, over which Sophie and I talked. She was very cool, albeit reserved, and I liked her immediately. We didn't talk much about what I was going to do in class, or what I wanted to see in Nanjing; we talked a lot about politics. After I mentioned some historical events (what the Chinese tend to refer to as "mistakes"—30 million people dying in a famine is quite the "mistake"!), and offered what I thought was some rather tender criticism (much more tender than that which I offered about my own country's government), she paused, and insisted that she supported her government.

I told her that often in the West, we have a tradition of looking at the government—unless given a reason otherwise—as one's opponent. She did seem to like the comparison I made, when I said that just because she loved her husband, it didn't follow that he didn't make mistakes or do things that bothered her. (I had the feeling she had a mental list of precisely these things, relative to her husband.)

It was probably a big mistake not to ask more questions, such as:

where should I eat?
how do I use public transportation?
how do I find my class?
how well will my students speak English?
are there some faculty, Western or Chinese, I can meet?
when do I get paid?

Eventually, all these things got resolved, intentionally or otherwise, often by myself or by getting frustrated enough to try to use some Chinese. I learned in China that everything generally gets figured out, but there is always a moment where it looks like it won't, and it gets complicated, but patience is always rewarded. Maybe 3,000+ years of recorded history makes folks patient.

Sophie and I walked around a bit—my goal was not to get lost, a goal I frequently failed to meet over the next two weeks—then I went back home. I knew I had to—I wanted to—do characters every day, so I got to work on those. I had about 250 down (and learned about 300 more while I was in Nanjing.) I then started reading a book I had brought which I thought would be appropriate (The Travels of Marco Polo), and crashed about 8 p.m..

Fortunately, Sophie did show me how to work the TV.