I wake up in the morning in theory at 6:30 Brush teeth, iron the clothes- got to look good- (you never know when someone will snap your photo) put on clothes, grab a bite for the break between my two hour blocks of teaching. Fill up my thermos with hot water from the water “cooler” and run out the door. And then I run back in to make sure the iron is off. Cruise the 3K on my electric bicycle between the Foreign experts buildings and the School of Foreign Languages. On my way I pass the dorms where the staff of the Dong Hu Hotel live. Compared to the ritz of the three star hotel, the staff dorms are shacks. There must be at least 16 of them sharing living quarters, bathrooms and kitchens. Their uniforms hang to dry across the street on clothes lines stretched between trees. Past the hotel, I pass the peacock house on my right and farms on my left. And then I go across the bridge that connects East and West Campus. Under and to either side of the bridge lies: a highway, a cemetery, a river, farmland, a park under construction and tennis courts. It is a long bridge.
My students are always lined up at the door even when I am fifteen minutes early for class. I unlock the doors and the students stand gobsmacked for a second mareling at the new desk arrangement- I try to mix it up as often as possible, keeps ’em on their toes.
Mondays and Fridays are my favorites because the classes on those days are the most rambunctious. They are quickest to get out of control but also the only classes that police themselves and thus settle down the quickest too. These are the classes where a horde of students charge my desk after each class to ask me questions. Lots of questions. “What does ‘good for you’ mean? I pronounce ‘singing’ and ‘sinning’ the same way- help! Is American food really sweeter than Chinese food?” and so on and so on… These classes also have a sense of humor which makes my job both easier and rewarding.
Lunchtime sometimes means eating in the third floor of the “Knowledge Canteen” (It’s a poor and simplistic translation. It should something more like “The Place Where People Gather to Discuss Philosophic Ideas” but I guess that takes too long. Mandarin is very useful for taking big, complex ideas and communicating them in a few short characters.) The Knowledge Canteen is restuarant style serving up good quality standard fare Chinese food at University student prices. If the weather is nice and we have adequte pocket change we might go to the West Gate…
The West Gate is a snack street- an integral part of Chinese cultural for at least 1000 years, probably for much longer. A t-intersection with the University’s west gate is home to a community of street vendors, snack shops, fruit stands, running children with ice cream dripping down their chins, old men playing mahjong, domnioes or chess, college students gobbling privincial style fried baozi. It is a wonderful circus of color and noise. Very Chinese. I like it here. Except for the staring…
Every where I go in this city I’m met with the stereotypical stares and excited shouts of “hello!” or the mildly offensive “Laowei!” (“Foreinger!”) The older people look at you blankly or frightenedly until you say “Ni hao!” and smile- they usually smile back. “If you speak my language,” they must be thinking, “then he must be ok.”
Around two o’clock as the students are headed back to class, I get on my bicycle and head home.