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Anji Bamboo Park
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Anji Bamboo Park
Photo by the author
The Bird Nest Stadium
PHOTO
The Bird Nest Stadium
Photo by the author
Taiji Master at Houhai
PHOTO
Taiji Master at Houhai
Photo by the author
At the Mao Mausoleum
PHOTO
At the Mao Mausoleum
Photo by the Author
Ken Losey
PHOTO
Ken Losey

It’s Friday morning. There was a full moon last night, just like the one that inspired me last summer, and the one on the night before I came to China. It's nice that there are a few things like the moon that seem to never change.

 

My windows are open to let in the relatively cool morning air, though even at this hour it’s warm and humid in Beijing. Mr. Gong, with a cigarette in one hand and a bowl of hot brown broth in the other, just came by. The sweet ginger broth tastes good. Mr. Gong’s wife, who we call ayi (auntie), made it for me when she heard that I have a cold. Mr. Gong takes care of the building and us teachers. We call him Gong shifu (master). He took me to the window and pointed to the bike that I bought yesterday: there’s now a second lock on it – he wanted to make sure no one steals it.

 

While he was here Mr. Gong noticed the U.S. fifty cent piece on my desk and got excited because it’s the only American coin missing in his foreign currency collection. I’ve had it for years, and I have no idea why I brought it to China. I gave to Mr. Gong – maybe that’s why I brought it. Before he left Mr. Gong looked around my room and said, “Ni hen ganjing!” (“You’re very clean!”). Some of you know that I tend to be a little, (o.k., very), neat and organized. These days it feels even more important to keep my place neat and clean – as if by doing so I can prevent a return of the chaos.

 

I came from Wuxi to Beijing on July 3rd, and moved into my new place, an apartment on campus at the Beijing Institute of Petrochemical Technology, on the 29th. From my room I look down upon a courtyard that contains a bed of roses, a vine-roofed arbor, some pink and purple exercise equipment, a few trees, and the paved open space where I do taiji. One morning Mr. Zhang, a school administrator, greeted me and welcomed me to BIPT. Mr. Zhang is a retired general in his late seventies, but with his black hair and unwrinkled face I would have guessed much younger. He’s originally from Harbin in Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, and he doesn’t like this humidity. When I told I’d come from Jiangsu Wuxi, where it’s now hotter and more humid than Beijing, he decided I was lucky. I told him, “Yes, I’m lucky to be here.”

 

In the arbor below a small group of children is getting an English lesson. I'm not sure who the teacher is. This school employs only five foreign teachers. Besides me there’s Elliot and Sophia, a brother and a sister from Great Britain, and there's Clement and Jane, a couple from Cameroon, Africa. There’s a sixth foreigner but she’s not a teacher: Megan – Clement's and Jane’s 1 month old daughter. She's zhen ke’ai! (way cute!), and she draws many glances when Jane takes her out in her stroller.

 

The kids below are enthusiastic about learning English; they shout the words and phrases. But periodically the shrill cicadas in the trees hit a crescendo and drown out the little student voices. And about every ten minutes the din of the cicadas is in turn drowned out by the thunder of six military helicopters that have been circling low over Daxing this morning. I ran to the window the first few times to watch them fly over in a beautiful, tight formation, and I envied the crew members.

 

Finally, there’s the flute player below me. It’s Elliot and he’s very good. He plays a bamboo flute and the music is some lovely traditional Chinese melody. He practices every morning, and so I look forward to opening my windows.

 

BIPT is in the Daxing District, a south suburb of Beijing. Several buses connect with downtown Beijing, and next year there will be a subway line. It’s a “rural” district – China style rural, with tall buildings and fields intermixed. But it’s also very traditional: narrow tree-lined streets with small stores and sidewalk vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and barbecue. Daxing’s claim to fame is watermelons – the Watermelon Festival is in May – and in a few years Daxing will also be the location of Beijing’s second airport. There are a few large supermarkets with everything from apples to mp3 players, but they’re all distinctly Chinese: no mustard, frozen pizza or dental floss. I’ve seen no other Westerners here. In the Chaoyang District of Beijing, where I stayed with my friend Song Yinan and his family, I often saw Westerners shopping or emerging from their apartments.

 

And, of course, downtown Beijing is packed with tourists from around the world. One day Song Yinan dropped me off at the Olympic Park, where I walked around and took pictures of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. I then took a subway to Solana, a new, open-air mall on the Northwest corner of Chaoyang Park, where they’re building the Beijing Great Wheel. At 208 m high it will be the world’s tallest observation wheel, and will have 48 air conditioned capsules that hold up to 40 people each. Next year when it opens I'll be one of the first in line.
 

At Solana I had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and then saw the latest Harry Potter movie. On the subway I talked with four young travelers from North Africa – two from Tunisia and two from Morocco. They spoke Arabic, French and English. I told them they were lucky to be young and multilingual.

 

Despite the shouting children, the cicadas and the helicopters, Daxing is a quiet place. I like that. I also like the teaching schedule I’ll have starting in September: 12 periods per week, two days per week, four courses: Oral English, Advanced English, English Listening, and Skills of English Speech. Han Jing, (Alice), head of the Foreign Teacher’s Office, apologized to me for the hours and the low pay. I told her it was perfect. For a year I’ll have time to prepare lessons, learn Chinese, write, maybe do some painting, stay in touch with family and friends, explore Beijing, and do a little traveling. I didn’t tell her that it’s also a good schedule for someone who's recovering from surgery.

 

I’ve written several pages in my journal about my strange and stressful dealings with Lambton College in Wuxi, (a bad experience), and about my first ever surgery in a hospital where few people spoke English, (a challenging but overall good experience). “Huang He ru hai liu” – “Yellow River flows into the sea.” And so let all my worries, fear, pain, and anger flow downstream – or at least that’s what I’m trying to do. I won’t forget – I've got a Frankenstein’s monster scar to remind me. But I’m trying to focus on all the caring friends that helped me, and family and friends who sent me loving thoughts. Thank you all.  

 

Add fireworks to the list of sounds! Like the booming thunder of Saturday’s storm. I think Mr. Zhang was right: I am lucky. Lucky to be in Beijing rather than Wuxi, to be alive, to have lost only a kidney, a watch and a few kilograms, to have dear friends and family, (families), to have shouting children in the courtyard below, to have screaming cicadas in the treetops, helicopters buzzing the rooftops, with fireworks providing the rhythm. And I’m lucky to have the flute player below and the beautiful music floating up, lifting me up.

 

(I know: even the moon changes.)