Today, Friday, is chilly and gray in Beijing. The steam is pouring out of the street vendors stands and the dust hanging in the air for the past few days seems to have settled a bit thanks to the sprinkles. Until today, it has been very dry since I arrived and every gust of wind brings with it a little bit if grit that settles between the few hairs I have left on my head and between my tea-yellowed teeth. My lips look like the unrestored Dead Sea Scrolls and eating spicy food can be painful if not handled correctly. The next door neighbor lady took pity on me and brought me a real honest-to-goodness German-manufactured Nivea brand chapstick. I had forgotten to bring one (although brought every other pharmaceutical under the sun to the point I was worried that customs might be suspicious) and I had looked all over for one here to no avail. I was so overjoyed that she may have thought my long string of ‘thank yous’ was ingenuous. It was not. My lips are on the amend now, but are still very red. “As red as strawberries” as one student pointed out.
The same neighbor (whose daughter, WeiWei, is the same age as my host family’s son DuDu – 3), offered this morning to perform a therapeutic Chinese medicinal message on me this morning after breakfast. Were not talking spa message here. Key is “Chinese medicinal” so it’s gotta hurt – I figured that up front. Remember Chinese medicine with those dozens of needles, the flaming cups attached to your skin that create mega-hickies, the burning moxa (incense like tablet’s affixed to the top of the needles), the ground up dried flora and fauna made into a refreshing drink? That’s what I was counting on. I have to say that I really like the neighbor lady. She and Mrs Jin, the hostlady, are good friends. They are both in the mid-30′s or so and are very modern and sort of…..I guess “laid back’. The neighbor lady, I found, possesses the strongest fingers I have seen or experienced in my entire life. The first part of the procedure consisted of her sticking those very strong and pointy fingers so deep into my stomach and leaving them there for a couple minutes at each scientifically designated point. She got know all my innards up close and personal. The neighbor exclaimed that I had the softest stomach she had ever felt on an adult. I asked if this would be a good thing since my Western male mind doesn’t like the idea of being a marshmellow. Oh, yes! This was really good, she said. And the fact that I had not cried out in pain indicated that I am indeed healthy. I don’t know if she had noticed the tears rolling down my cheeks. They were not tears of joy. After all of the recesses of my stomach are had been completely explored and she found that umbilical hernia I need to have taken care of one of these days, she moved on to my back which was tenderized with copious elbow pressure and rapid palm movements. Legs, arms are fingers were pulled and the bottom of my feet were beaten within an inch of their lives. It was the best message I have ever had in my life (and I’ve had several). After it was all over, I was unable to get up for several minutes. I drank a few cups of hot water (they love hot water here — no tea, just hot water) and ate only one bowl of Mrs Jin’s mother’s hand made dumplings and vegetables (much to her dismay since she thinks I am about to die of starvation at any moment). I dragged myself out on to the street and hailed cabs. Two stopped but wouldn’t take me to school (I was going the wrong direction for the first one and the other one was almost out of gas and the destination was too far). The third cab stopped and was far and away the slowest, most courteous driver I have ridden with yet. Downside was that I got to the school late.
This was my last class with the 9-11 year olds (3rd level) before I retrn home. They were so happy to see me and have me in their class, but really were not into learning English much. We were working on numbers. I had them count off. They got to 12 and then looked at me…a couple could go to 20, but only a couple. They were great at repeating the numbers thirteen to twenty, but that was about it. Their school book actually had the “1-2-3-5, once I caught a fish alive” song which a sang. They liked it. They sing a lot. We worked on that for the rest of the class. The finished product sounded something like “ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE MMUM AYE PHUSH RYEBE!!!!!!“ But that’s okay….a good time was had by all.
Director Wang was still at the school today. After my class was over (only had one hour today, he called me into his “office” and we drank tea from his hometown. Really strong green tea. He leaves for home on the train this evening. Nine and a half hours transt. He showed me his ticket a couple times. Our conversation far exceeded my expectations. We exchanged email and mailing addresses and he wanted to make sure when, exactly, I would return next year. When I said I couldn’t promise that I’d be back in 2012 he looked honestly distressed. He showed me pictures of his wife and family in a photo album hidden behind the hanging blanket which separated the room. His wife is pretty and he has 4 children. Thi is very rare for ethnic Chinese in “One-Child-Family-China”. Minorities are exempt from from the one child rule, but Mr Wong is ”Han” Chinese and not an ethnic minority. I only said he was lucky to have so many children and he agreed. Since we wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore any time soon, he gave me a little folder with little button-sized portraits of of Chairman Mao in the various stages of his military and political career. ”This is for your Chinese daughter”, he said. He also gave me the open can of tea from his hometown. The tea was clearly one of his prize possessions. Of course, he knew that he would be able to replenish his supply while on home leave. Nonetheless, this was a heartfelt expression of his appreciation and I thanked him again and again. He told me “Many of the children’s parents don’t even earn 1000 yuan (about $360) per month and many of them have several children living in one room. Those children will be here as long as this school stands and I know that they would like you to come back”. He walked me across the courtyard to the tin and reebar gate and asked that we stay in touch.
I waved and walked down the now muddy lane with the sounds of the kids screaming their repetitions for their other teachers. I’ll be back tomorrow.