Walking around the neighborhood I noticed that the telephone poles were kind of weird looking, then I saw they were not wood or metal, but made of formed concrete! This is strange indeed — I’m accustomed to the tall, sturdy, pitch-coated logs holding up power lines in America. But then it dawned on me that wood is now a rare building material here.
All the city buildings are made of poured concrete, even the housing. And this includes the roof, ceilings, and interior walls, like between bedrooms, kitchen, and living room. Maybe that is why Chinese homes have so few wall hangings: putting things on a wall requires a mansonry-drill to make the hole!
I started researching this theoildrum.com further and found the CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION News Service says that China alone consumes more than half the world’s cement. Cement is sort of like the glue in concrete. (Concrete is about 15% cement.) Apparently demand has not yet subsided. USGS data posted on theoildrum.comreally shows how China’s demand has been consistent in recent years. “Annual production of cement by country — theolddrum.com & USGS”
All winter my bike was hibernating in the school bike lot with a flat. The warm Spring air urged me to get the bike repaired; besides I missed the freedom of biking in Tianjin!I went to retrieve it and was shocked when I saw the thick skin of grime coating the cycle’s exterior. Have I ever mentioned the pollution here? Some reckon it similar to a couple of cigarettes a day (no kidding). The bike looks 5 years older now, so what is the pollution adding to my age? Hmmm…?Anyway, I pushed the bike towards our busy neighborhood where I know I’d find a bike repair guy. You can’t miss them, every corner of a busy neighborhood has a Chinese man in his 50’s sitting next to his cart of tools and miscellaneous used bike parts.I knew the one I wanted to visit, he is crippled in both feet. One foot is turned more than 90 degrees in, and the other foot — well I’m not sure he has another foot as I don’t see a shoe and his pants drag the ground. But his face is interesting to me. I can tell he notices people, it seems like he is thinking about them. We must walk past this bike man a few times a week going to the market or out to eat on the street, so if he is one to take notice, well I’m taking notice of him too.I walked my bike up to him. He looked at me, then at the flat tire and motioned for me to lay it down then he began to work on it. [When you go to China you realize both how necessary and unnecessary language is.]He kept his eyes lowered [Asian custom] but I’m sure he studied me through infrequent glances. There was a group of old men playing Chinese chess within 6 feet of the bike man’s cart. [Another phenomenon that I noticed here — see a bike repair man, next too it there is Chinese chess. Sort of like WalMart and Lowes in the US.]He goes to his work quickly kneeling on the ground next to the tire. So swiftly that in seconds the tube is out and pushed down in a basin of grey-black water to locate the leak. It is patched in no time and I raise up the bike. I thank him; he motions 2 RMB (about 30 cents); I stuff much more in his hand and take off as he is trying to protest.NEXT MORNING. So excited to ride the bike to school and disappointed to find it flat again! Aarrgh. Oh well, I’ll catch the bus.EVENING. Susan and Megan want to go on a walk with me back to the bike man. A beautiful sky and warm evening how the light is filtering through the buildings to the street. He’s surprised to see us and the flat, but quickly starts work on the tube. He is really enjoying Megan. He told me not to pay, but I dropped it into his toolbox.THIRD MORNING. Flat again?! Strangely I’m not annoyed, just thinking that this is not a coincidence. This is just another good excuse to see the bike man. :)EVENING. Megan agrees to go on a walk with Daddy. We stroll the bike bak around the corner. Another nice evening. The bike man is apologetic and spends extra time on the tire. His friend is there and they are asking me where we are from. Megan is being friendly, intently watching him while he works standing close interested and sweet at the same time. The bike man is talking to Megan — neither understanding, yet understanding each other. I asked to take their picture.Maybe tomorrow evening, Megan and I will bring a print of the picture to our new friend!
Just finished the 3rd session with my new Chinese tutor– and I’m feeling it is going fairly well.As we left, I mentioned that I must taxi home as my bike had a flat. Jed offered me a ride on the back of his bike. I hesitated thinking of the inconvenience to him (and effort to haul me home). But then I realized that he (like most other Chinese) probably thought it wasteful to taxi … most Chinese would think, ‘why not just walk the 3/4 mile?’ So I gave in to the pressure and straddled the bike rack and he took off.
Actually I enjoyed the brotherly-sense of riding along together, my tutor speaking slowly in Chinese (repeating often) answering my questions about the weather in his home province, or things about his new life in the city.
Then I noticed all the people (from cars, walkers, other bikes) watching us; I guess it is a rare site for them to see a foreigner on the back of a bike!
On days like today (May Day) I’m reminded how ignorant I am about national/cultural differences.This morning, on the elevator, I was greeted by our upstairs neighbors: Husband, wife (both about our age) and 10th grade daughter who asked if I would have a day off for the holiday. Stumped for a second, I responded to the affirmative. And as they headed off in the other direction to see their Grandmother, I suddenly realized why so many families were out and about with smiles and much talking; today is a very important national holiday. [And I had not thought about it all week!] We’ve been in China almost two years but I’m still slow to recognize their important days!We were invited out to a Dim Sum Cantonese-style lunch by some Malaysian-Chinese friends. So by now, I’m knowing that part of the significance is May Day — all over Asia people are celebrating in special family gatherings.
We arrived (this was a high-class restaurant) and met the three other families. It was so interesting and fun! The other men were a little older than me and well-accomplished businessmen by any standard. I wish I had time to write about their stories: growing up in the 70’s in China, advancing in the Chinese Navy and now in the toy manufacturing business — Wow.
When they found out we had five kids, that became the topic of conversation for at least a half hour! One lady just started crying — (through a translator, of course) she was expressing happiness at seeing the blessing of our five children– especially Megan, and also expressing some regret and sadness that they could only have one. And what’s worse, their one daughter has lived in Canada since she turned 18. Asian parents will sacrifice all to give their children the best life possible. So after graduating high school, they sent their daughter to college in Canada, but the daughter, now 28 has not returned. 🙁
Americans have instant appeal in China, but it takes time to build meaningful relationships. Last year we were standing in Tienanmen Square Beijing and in less than 10 minutes our cute 3 yr old Megan had attracted almost a hundred people [no exaggeration, we had to leave the Square as the crowd kept growing]. No relationships came out of all that exposure; even though we posed for many pictures. But yesterday, over lunch at school, some Chinese staff told me three ways my family had touched their lives. I was so surprised to hear it as I rarely have the opportunity to talk or eat with that particular group; obviously they are making quiet observations of our family. This shows that people really do watch our actions over time. I’m thinking: while it does take time to build trust and credibility, it’s worth the wait to have a positive impact in the lives of others.[P.S. Two of these staff have asked to join the marriage study group!]
When you buy alkaline batteries in China here’s some prizes you can get –1) Flashlight
2) Miniature Traditional Chinese New Years Decoration [I think this is for your rearview mirror?]
3) Pocket Knife [remember not to carry through airport security!]
4) my favorite: Green Kitchen Scrubby
Tonight we watched Les Choristes (The Chorus) – a french movie about a new teacher arriving at an obscure boarding school where the boys are undisciplined and the head master’s harsh corporal punishment tactics do not work. The teacher — Monsieur Mathieu — decides to introduce choir to the boys — in so doing he is able to reach out to them through music and becomes an inspiration and beloved. I especially enjoyed the movie because I could relate being a new teacher myself, changing careers late in life just as Mathiew had.I also appreciate Monsieur Mathieus disciplinary methods which are geared towards reaching the child’s heart; I believe this a key to parenting and teaching.All six of us enjoyed the movie and would watch it again. Starring: Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand Director: Christophe Barratier Rating: PG-13
Public speaking is not one of my strong points, so you can imagine the anguish I felt preparing for the sermon this morning. It feels good to have that over with!This city has one fellowship for foreigners that is sanctioned by the local government. For complicated reasons we have no admin or pastoral staff, so everything is arranged through our volunteer elders — including arranging speakers for Sunday morning services. Obviously with a continuous flow of guest speakers we can’t do much to control quality, but hey — we’re the only place in town; we control the market! :)Honestly, the place is filled with wonderful devout believers here from all over the world. They are not attending for quality, they are attending because we all need community. We all need a place to refuel on the Word.I probably reaped most of the benefits speaking today — my heart is full from the 12+ hours of preparation in the Word. John 5:16-30 has become one of my favorite passages.
I have really enjoyed my first year living in China. But one major frustration is the cash-based society here. I just spent four hours reconciling the last three months in Quicken. Can you believe that?! Four hours! We were too accustomed to our life in the US where every transaction is automatically recorded on-line. Checking my balance and spending patterns was almost effortless.Here, most receipts are hand written and all payments are made in cash (no checks). On our first trip to the appliance store for a washer, dryer, rice cooker, water dispenser, coffee maker, iron, etc — the total was more than 15,000 RMB and they refused to take a credit card. I had to go get cash-RMB. And in China the largest note is 100 RMB, so I counted out 150 notes! Money management is a chore.
I’m a foreigner feeling especially foreign today; oblivious to all the excitement. Today in Beijing (about two hours drive from here) China is putting on a Grand Military Parade, probably its biggest in modern times. Our neighbors have been following it all on TV, just like we Americans follow the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.But our family has scarcely left Apt-801 even thought the weather was extraordinary sunny and clear. After an all-hands effort cleaning bathrooms, folding laundry, and re-arraning the living room, we settled down to some games (Taboo, Apples-to-Apples, and Risk). For an early dinner, we ordered pizza.I like that our teenagers are not bored hanging out here. (Nothing like my teen years.) They even played hospital for a while, very comical with much laughing and later setup Megan’s play table with snacks and watched three episodes of Little House on the Prarie! [unbelieveable… and don’t tell them I put this on my blog!!]