Sunday, February 15, 2009


This evening, I decided I'd step out to see who or what was waiting in the frigidness of the Baoding evening. Dawning red knit cap and knock-off North Face jacket, I went out. 

"Out" is dangerous, more so than people always appreciate. I mean, anything could happen: I could end up forgetting my key and cause a whole slew of people to interrupt their casual Sunday evenings to rescue me; I could get pick-pocketed walking across the intersection of the roads; I could end up freezing to death lying face down in a ditch after getting beat up for looking at someone across the street the wrong way; heck, I could fall in love, going "out." 

None of these things happened tonight. I walked up the street near the intersection of Qung Wei Lu and the street with the Da ren Fa supermarket, looking for my friends who congregate there some night to play a descent game of feather bag (Chinese version of hacky sack). When I was confronted with their absense, I decided to be "adventurous" and walk onward, past the first bank of China and several corner stores elling soda and iced tea. I entered one store, looking for some batteries. 

Immediately upon enetering the store, I froze at the sensational realization that I had no idea how to communicate my desire to buy six AA batteries. I looked at the store keeper and said, "Uhhh...," looking around frantically. The communication barrier almost won another battle until I spotted out of the corner of my eye a remote control. 

"Uhh, leoga jigga," I said, pointing to the back of the remote where the batteries go. The store keeper sprang into action and went to the back of the store to find the batteries. I also picked up a pack of "San haio er (3 + 2)" crackers, a heralded favorite of mine here in China. 

I paid my money and walked back outside, spotting some park benches screaming for my attendance across the street. "Out" here, I could get run over crossing the street-- there's little "pedestrian" acknowledgement here, as cars would rather swerve around you than let you by freely. I pulled out all of my Sesame Street wisdom, which taught me clearly to "Be Careful when you cross the street!", then girded up and started "out" into traffic. I got to the middle stripe, then stopped, looking to my left: a van, not 15 feet "out." I should be prudent, stay here, wait for things to clear, not be too hast---

"BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeee....."  sang the car horn, more a warning of its presense than protest to my decision to leap out in front of its progress, then well behind me, narrowly avoiding being caught "out" between its headlights. 

There were a dozen old people in the park, enjoying the cold night. Each person was using the various park equipment strewn throughout the park: the massage chair with its bumpy seat and back rest to work out latent knots from the bodies of common workers, the monkey bars for strengthening the upper body, the 10-centimeter high balance beam that the old man in the glasses has perfected to an art form to display for gawking children in the Spring months ahead. I sometimes come to the realization watching these people that their lives are so profoundly different from mine, just the expectations for the potential of a given day. They have lived through so much change in Chinese culture; I wonder what they think of how much things have changed when they find themselves surrounded on all sides by indelible signals of this change: the bank, the neon  light of the Qung Wei Lu, the wai guo ren (foreigner) staring at them as they exercise their bodies in the park. 

I wonder the same thing of my students: what do they think of this foreigner teaching them each week? Do they care? Or have things truly changed so much in such a short time for this country that there's little effect that my presence will have for their lives? 

This is my thought for this semester, as I eat my 3 + 2 cheese crackers and do seven pull-ups in the park: don't go without leaving a dent in their lives.