Saturday, October 29th, 13 days left
Thank you for all the phone calls and get-well wishes! I’m all better, now. Just a lingering occasional cough.
Had a steam bun for breakfast and got all cleaned up for my language class. I tried trimming my beard with scissors but the light is still out above my mirror and I just couldn’t see if I was doing a good job, so off it came. Don’t worry, I’m letting it grow back.
While I got ready, I left the kitchen slider open. It got too cold, so I shut it soon after. Reminded me to take my light jacket (Layer II), just in case. Packed up my bag, took out the garbage, and went to class.
A side note about garbage: During my first week here I didn’t know what to do with my garbage. I noticed someone put a bag of garbage outside their door, and that it was gone later. Was there garbage pickup? Then one day I saw a big pile of all kinds of things in the stair well. Somebody had moved out and left everything they didn’t want piled in the corner. Within hours the building maintenance people were taking care of it. I don’t think it all got thrown away, either, because they were putting things into different piles, including some nice stuff that I wouldn’t mind looking through myself… Hmm… In any case, the incident brought to my attention the existence of a large (32-gal) trash bag in the stairwell. Careful inspection on several different days indicated that this was where people dropped off their garbage. So now I do the same. I’m still afraid of being “caught” and told to take my garbage out to the street cans, like I’ve had to do in Ireland!
The weather during the walk to class was cool. Not cold, but “I better keep walking to keep warm if I’m going to insist on going out in nothing but short-sleeved shirts” weather. I noticed that almost all the color was gone from people’s clothing; all black jackets over sweaters over shirts. A young lady dressed in bright yellows and pinks stood out as she walked proudly among the others. But even she had jacket over sweater over shirt. Winter had definitely hit Layer III levels.
In the week I had been holed up in my apartment, another old store had been replaced by a brand new store. I first saw this happen the week before I was sick. On Tuesday, I almost stopped to take a picture on my way to the University. There, crossing a busy sidewalk, a contractor had pulled his chord to plug in a piece of demolition machinery. And it wasn’t just a “lay on the ground” kind of extension chord. This was one of those “never gets tangled because it’s coiled” chords. Its coils rose a good four inches above the sidewalk. Everybody had to be paying attention. And there were no “Mind the Chord” or warning signs anywhere. I carefully stepped over, decided taking a picture was not what I needed to be doing right now, and I went on my way to class. On my way home from class, the chord was gone, a police officer was on the scene, and a construction barrier had been installed to keep people from walking underneath the falling construction debris. Well, I thought, that’s a good thing. Two days later, on my walk to the University, I was confronted by obnoxious music, a loud barker extolling the wonders of something, and crowds everything as a three-person deep line was getting either free food or very cheap food (meat, so I passed). I nudged my way through, walked another 10 feet, then stopped. I had to double-check the stores, but this crowd was here for the “grand opening” of a brand new store, in the same location as the old store they had just torn out two days ago! That’s amazing! I got closer to inspect the handiwork. Everything looked good. I realized that China may have a standard dimension for “hole-in-the-wall” businesses, so that when you buy a franchise, they just package one up and send it out to “pop” in. I thought it was very clever. “Franchise in a box.” I’ll have to see if the government builds the concrete shells and utility feeds, all standardized. I wonder if we have anything similar in the U.S.
So today, I passed another new store, the old one taken out and the new one put in, all during the week I was sick. I wonder what will change while I’m in Thailand?
Even though winter is in the air, none of the trees have lost their leaves, or even turned color. It’s strange. The nights are getting cold now, but the leaves are not turning. Are these evergreen trees? I know the Ginkos will lose their leaves, usually turning a bright yellow. Maybe I’m just too early.
At my lesson, my teacher gave me a class on how to answer the phone. Not very useful for me, and based on the age of the lesson text, certainly not useful to anyone under the age of 40:
Man: “Hello. This is Jim. I’m calling for Melissa.”
Woman: “Hello, Jim. How are you? This is Melissa.”
Man: “I’m good. How are you, Melissa?”
Woman: “Very well, thank you. What were you calling about?”
Man: “Please, may I ask, are you busy this afternoon? Maybe we could go to the movies together.”
Woman: “I’m sorry. Yes, I am busy. Maybe another time.”
Remember when we used to share a phone line? In the old days? And had to ask to speak to someone, because there was more than one person who might answer the phone?
Grandchild: You mean you’d call a number without knowing who would answer?
Grandfather: That’s right. I’d have to ask for the person I wanted to talk to.
Grandchild: You were allowed to talk to strangers?
Grandfather: No. They weren’t strangers, just part of the same family. They all shared the same phone.
Grandchild: But what about friends?
Grandfather: What about friends?
Grandchild: How did you call friends?
Grandfather: Oh, we weren’t allowed to use the phone just to call friends.
Grandchild: But Grandpa, how did you talk?
Grandfather: What do you mean?
Grandchild: With friends. If you couldn’t call them? How did you talk?
Grandfather: How indeed.
The language lesson was difficult, once more, because I was corrected, once more, on the pronunciation I thought I learned from previous teachers. This teacher pronounced “r” more like a “j.”
Me: You mean it doesn’t sound anything like an “r” as in “run” or “rabbit”?
Teacher: Oh no. The pinyin isn’t the same pronunciation as English.
Me: But the Roman letters were chosen to represent something close, I thought.
Teacher: No. The pinyin was chosen to teach children how to speak Mandarin. The letters don’t match English sounds.
Well, except every other letter! I think I’ll avoid “r” words for now. And that means not using my stock phrase of “bu yao rou” = “no want meat.” That’s okay. Because I had another conversation with another Chinese teacher along these lines:
Teacher: “Rou” only means pork, anyway.
Teacher: Well, most of the meat here is pork. But “rou” does not mean fish, chicken, or cow meat.
I think I better learn the word for potato, as long as it isn’t an “r” word.
The best part of class was when I was looking at a character in a sentence the teacher wanted me to read. I recognized the character for “today,” not from the pinyin pronunciation, from the Chinese character.
“That means today!” I said.
“Yes, you’re right!” she said, smiling with me. “Do you know the word for yesterday?”
I think she was really trying to make me feel better after so many words I didn’t know. But I couldn’t remember how to say the word for yesterday.
“The character has a little…” I said, drawing what I remembered with my finger in the air.
“Like this?” she said, writing the characters on the board. “And what is the word for tomorrow?”
I didn’t know the pronunciation, but I remembered the character.
“It’s like a sun and moon,” I said.
She looked confused, which made me question my memory.
“What is the word?” she asked, again.
I got up out of my chair.
“I don’t know the word, but I think I know the characters,” I said.
I held out my hand for the dry-erase marker. She hesitated, then handed it to me. I went to the board and drew the character for sun (4 strokes) and moon (4 strokes):
“Very good,” she said. “And proper stroke order, too.”
I was beaming 🙂
She gave me a little booklet, with three characters to practice. She carefully wrote out the stroke order, requiring her to draw the start of the character as many times as there were strokes.
“Is this the way they teach children?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, trying not to lose her place.
“Good,” I said.”That’s what I need!”
After my lesson, I went out the back way, nodded at the guard at the elevator, circled around to the front of the building. The light was just right on these railings, so I took a picture. Or maybe I was just seeing them with the glow of my stellar performance in class.
Note: These railings, which lead up to the main entrance for the building, are actually too low for me to use. When I was coming down the stairs during a drizzle a week ago, I almost slipped and fell. In this case, being so much taller than average was a real disability!
I went shopping on my way home. Got a couple new items: peanut leaves and a kind of scallion, I’m hoping. They did not have my favorite, Chinese leek. Is the season over? Or were they just out?
I made some scrambled eggs with goodies (mushroom, tree fungus). Also tried to make apple sauce (a real comfort food for me), but the apples never broke up. I had to chop them up into little pieces, ending up with an apple compote, and Jasmine tea.
Later that evening, I got hungry again, so I cooked my popcorn in the microwave (thank you Sarah, my “graze” provider). I sat in bed, comfy and warm, and played a new game I got for my Kindle Fire called “The Room.” It’s a brain puzzle, a complicated “Chinese puzzle box,” which requires solving mini-puzzles to get a box open, only to find another box, and another box…
I ate my popcorn, drank my water, played my brain puzzle, until I got tired of opening boxes. I put everything aside, strapped on my CPAP, pulled the covers over my head, and fell asleep.