Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Dad's Impressions!

Hi Will,

So I find myself visiting Will in China. The most consistent impression is that I do not understand what I am seeing.  I am reminded of my first sociology class.  The professor sent us to visit Dupont Circle in D.C. and report back on what we saw.  I learned later there was quite alot to see there in terms of alternative lifestyles.  I missed all of that.  I returned to class with a report along the lines of "well, there were alot of people and buildings. Some of the buildings were embassies I think."  The reports by the rest of the class were much more worldly and interesting.  So, with that lesson on rose colored glasses, here is my report on my first days in China.  

First, the driving.   I think they call it driving.  Will had lined up a man with a truck to take us from the airport to Songgui.  We had to hike a little from the airport terminal to the driver because he was not an approved airport taxi.  Not a good sign, but shoot, we probably saved 50 cents by not using an approved driver.  Will had a mischievous glint in his eye as he put me into the front seat, and before I was even sure there were no seatbelts we were heading up the wrong way on the freeway exit ramp.  I went ahead and asked "why are we going the wrong way on the freeway exit ramp?"  The Answer:  "its okay, the road is not finished." Which was true.  We were soon flying through a road construction site.  Gravel.  Trucks.  Men.  Other cars.  Slow Cars.  Fast Trucks.  More Men.  Livestock.  Fast Cars.  No worries though.  We were all honking.  Apparently as long as you can honk, you are okay.  Next time you approach an intersection, do not slow.  Do not look.  Just Honk.  It works. 

We survived the drive through the road construction and got to the part where we were in the mountains, honking and passing on the curves.  I noticed random brown haystack looking things.  Smaller than a haystack, but also brown.  I am still not sure what they are for, but I have theories.  In the brief moments when I was not calculating the odds of imminent collision, I saw terraced agriculture fields.  To state the obvious:  That must be alot of work.  Lots of small irregularly shaped fields all working their way up the side of the mountain.  

We did finally arrive in Songgui.  The adrenaline and stress from the drive had eliminated any fatigue from the 30 hour travel day, plus it was dinner time.  The restaurant had a man and a woman in the food prep area.  Will went into the food prep area and he and the lady discussed the contents of the fridge.  Green stuff, unidentifiable meat as well as a very identifiable leg of pig.  Really.  Good looking pig leg.  And a great big tub of rice.  After Will's talk with the lady, we sat down at the table and drank tea.  

We kept our coats on though.  The dining area was "open air."  So far I have been here 5 days and have not been in any restaurant with a closed door.  Some have big metal doors, but they are never shut.  Some do not have any doors.  Just a group of short tables and stools by the side of the road.  Your savvy diners, who want to eat and be warm, look for a spot in the sun and out of the wind.  But that is not always available.  

So, after a little while huddled around my tea cup, the food came.  A great plate of pieces of the pig leg.  Brocolli.  Tofu.  Rice.  A struggle with chopsticks.  More tea.  Really good food. Then, time to find a bed.

Songgui is a market town and most of the restaurants have a few rooms to rent.  There are also at least two motel kind of places that do not have a restaurant.  We rented a room in one.  After confirming that the one chair in the room had just been stacked, but not actually bolted or screwed or even glued together, and failing to figure out the exact source of the liquid on the bathroom floor, I decided to try the next motel. Much nicer and went to bed for the night. No word on my request for a refund of the $7 I spent on the first motel.

Songgui is dark in the morning.  Not quiet though.  The trucks never stop going through.  Some big.  Some small.  And a million kind of tractor looking things that chug, chug, chug, chug everywhere they go. By 8 am it is getting light enough to see and we meet Will at the only intersection in town.  Two of the corners have food service.  The tables are outside.  Which is fair, because the food prep and cooking areas are also outside.  So Will talked to the lady and we sat down at a very short table on short stools.  Each table has cups with hot spice, salt, msg, and a couple of dangerous looking sauce things. 

Will has ordered noodles in a pork kind of broth.  Will recommends the hot spice and it is very good.  Plus it is hot.  Nothing like a bowl of hot noodles on a cold morning in Songgui.

Then to school.  Not to be too proud, but Will runs a great classroom.  60 (I counted) seventh grade kids. They all wear the uniform jackets.  Not sure I understand why the uniform is a red white and blue windbreaker that says "Sport Fashion" on the back.  They poured into the classroom and were all pretty interested to see Tessa and me standing in the back.  We did not have the uniform red, white and blue windbreaker jackets, so they knew we were new.  

The bell rings(not exactly like a school bell, more a series of faint tones)  and Will asks them to be quiet.  They settle down and the lesson begins. The kids are focused (with a few minor exceptions) and happy.  Words fail a proud father, but it was great to see Will explaining in Chinese (I assume that was what he was doing) and leading them through their exercises.  The kids have final exams, so much of the focus was on test taking strategies.  

Much more to report, but it is time for dinner and a bus ride to LiJiang.


  1. Thanks for the update! It sounds perilous to drive in China! I'm glad that honking solves all driving concerns! I'm certainly enjoying hearing about the trip!

  2. There's a children's book in here: Called, "The Road is Not Finished". Add a dozen photos, and you're done. But it means getting back in the truck....

  3. Based on my experiences in the Philippines, honking does not work if the oncoming car is a steamroller. In that case, the appropriate action is to back up -- quickly! mkc