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Seth Seth! More info on China please & Thanks (31) RE: Seth! More info on China please & Thanks 08 Feb 01


IF you are close to my generation, male, American, then you remember the war comics of the nineteen fifties, with orange colored Chinese pilots flying their MIGs and saying things like " Eat leaden death, Yankee dogs" into their headphones, before they were blown to pieces by American Sabre jets. Later, before I came to China, I was warned by family, friends and travel guides how wily and tricky the Chinese were , and how it was part of their culture to try to rip off the unwary or unwise visitor. If you read guidebooks about China, you can read this too. It says that a Chinese merchant will lose face with his or her colleagues if they don't come out on the fat end of every deal. So… We decided to visit Nan Yang, a town about five hours away by train, famous for its jade and turquoise mines. It was gray. It was cold. The wind was down from Mongolia for a few days, which always makes every day feel a little like Cleveland in January. Snow blowing horizontally as the train left LouYang. Steam locomotives and Nuke plants. We were riding economy hard seat, which means just that. Seats are pieces of wood nailed together at right angles with the most minimal padding. Heat is supplied by a Chinese train crew woman shoveling coal into a boiler at the end of each car. There are fancier trains in China, but we weren't on one. We were riding with lots of our kids from school who were on their way home for vacation, so we were having an okay time in spite of the cold. Things went from worse to not so bad, and by the time we got to Nan Yang, one of our students decided that we needed help, (which was true) and he and his father helped us find a hotel that wasn't too expensive, but still pretty nice. We have gotten used to this kind of serendipity, it happens so often here that we tend to think of it as a sort of bank account that we can just draw on as necessary. We never did reach our goal of getting to the actual jade mine, we thought we were going there and then the cab driver stopped to ask directions of a police woman, who quickly doffed her hat and Sam Browne belt, hopped in the cab, and guided us to a jade shop-run by her mother and grandmother! But the things they had were lovely, the prices ( after negotiating ) were fair, and the policewoman was on of the most beautiful women I ever seen, so we did n't feel ripped off at all. When it became clear that we were done buying, policewoman jumped back in the cab and was gone like a cool breeze, which is also what we were standing in, with the temperature around zero and us miles past the end of the bus line not even sure where we were. What to do, What to do? Eating "tang" at this point in any Chinese journey is always a good strategy, for the soup served in this part of China will warm anyone up. Folks in Henan Province like soup to be very spicy, and when it's cold, spicy and thermally hot too. Later, we sloshed out to the highway to see if we could find a wandering bus or cab, but the serendipity angels sent a guy who pulled up in his new BMW, asked us in very good English if we needed a ride and he zipped us back to our hotel full of car heater and Chinese FM. He didn't ask for anything, just hoped that we were enjoying China. Things steadily got better as the days went on. Every time we had a need, a person appeared as if on cue to fill it. Leslie was chased out of a store by a merchant who noticed that Leslie had forgotten to get her change back. I was chased for half a block by a Muslim raisin seller who wanted to know if we had liked the noodle shop he had recommended. We couldn't find a receipt to get back a 200 Yuan hotel deposit; the hotel gave it to us anyway. We went to neighborhood restaurant three times to eat and the last time the whole staff gathered around to have pictures taken, wish us well, and, of course, the meal was free. And that's not all, that's just the stuff that I recall easily. I don't think that they get too many Americans coming through Nan Yang, I don't think that you could expect this in Beijing or Shanghai, but who knows? The warmth and kindness of Chinese people is amazing. I shake my head in wonder. Later, getting on the train to go back to Luo Yang, we got to see another side of Chinese life. Chinese people don't like to wait in line. There are no reserve seats on the hard seat train. There are many farmers with huge bags of peanuts, raisins, fleece to take to the larger markets of LuoYang. When the train arrives at the station, before it has completely stopped, before any passengers can get off, people are pushing, crowding, using their packages and bags as battering rams to get on the car so that they can get a seat. About ten minutes of chaotic insanity, while people yell and scream, threaten each other, call each other names and fight for seats. Wow. Then everyone calms down for the rest of the trip. The young men have all the best seats, and families and the old women have to take what they can get, which sometimes is no seat at all. I saw women as old as my mother sitting on the diamond plate between the cars because there was no seat for them inside. Then we ride through the beautiful Chinese country side in the late winter afternoon, the sun cutting the green fields at an oblique angle, making an etching of every goose, duck and muddy child we see in the villages along the rails. We share our food with our traveling companions, Chinese country folks who cough, spit, smoke, drink, and toss things out the train window. They laugh, showing their brown and broken teeth in big smiles as we attempt to communicate in Chinese, a source of never ending mirth to them. Chinese kids like jeans, printed T shirts, platform shoes, Backstreet Boys, all the pop icons. I haven't met a kid yet with a strong individual taste in Western music, but they are pretty open to what ever I try to do, at least in class. Biggest smash that I ever used: Do Ya Wanna Dance? old Beach Boys rock and roll.( 19 English words!) Biggest dud? Knockin' on Heaven's Door. They didn't get it, told me they hated it. Did I tell you that I love it here? Love from Seth in China


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