Part Eighteen in a series of articles about the experiences of an Australian Conversational English Teacher in Hong Hu, Hubei Province in China. Self published author of 'The King's Calendar:The Secret of Qumran', (a study in the history and chronology of Ancient Israel), R.P. BenDedek is a pseudonym.
My terrible trip to TianJin or Goodbye to QC!
|Exterior and Interior of the plane we took to TianJin. The airport tax was just as small - only 10 RMB.|
As Hong Hu and specifically Xin Di (where I live) is a small town with no university, it is not possible for me to study Mandarin in an official environment.
Additionally, while there are plenty of teachers in the school who could teach me, most are either too busy or too interested in my teaching "them" English to help me.
With this in mind, it was always my intention to spend the summer studying in Beijing, but the Hong Hu Education department had other plans.
As the end of the school year drew near I was advised that I would be teaching a "teacher's summer camp," details of which were still not forthcoming even 10 days before it commenced, so I decided to "shoot through" as we Aussies say.
My boarder, Xie Qin Chao, had earlier relayed to me an invitation from his mother to accompany him to TianJin during the holidays, and stay with his uncle. As an earlier invitation for a "free stay" with a Chinese family in ShenZhen ended up costing me 6000 RMB (because the relative didn't want foreigners in her home), I asked QC to check with his uncle in TianJin, and see if indeed I was welcome. I was not!
"But you can come anyway, and stay in a hotel," QC advised me. "Yeah, sure!" (like bloody hell!)
But as the time got closer and the Education Department and the School were not willing to share any information with me, particularly in regard to my part in the welcoming of the visiting Americans, I decided that instead of acting Chinese, and hanging around waiting to be told what to do, that I would go to TianJin.
It didn't really matter about QC and his family, nor whether they expected me to sit around in a hotel all day waiting for them to "permit" QC to spend time with me, for I had in fact been involved in constant correspondance with a Chinese lady in TianJin for some time. Her name is Wang Yunqi, about whom you will learn more in a few weeks time.
|Some architectural scenery around Tang Gu and TianJin|
The plan was for us to take the train, but as that was going to be time consuming and would require arriving in the early hours of the morning, on July 2nd we travelled to Wuhan, and the next day took a plane. Oh what a shock that was. It was the smallest plane I have ever flown in.
Anyway, QC gave me his 150 RMB train fare, and I paid his 950 RMB plane fare. The trip took us less than 2 hours, but upon arrival at TianJin airport, Murphy's Law and Chinese greed stepped in to mess things up.
When we exited the terminal, QC went to phone his uncle, but was unsuccessful. Then he made enquiries about taking a bus to Tang Gu which was where we were headed. That also proved unsuccessful. Then I sat down on the pavement to have a cigarette.
This was the first mistake. If I had not done that, we might have ended up in a different taxi. You see, I have enough experience with taxis to know that you are less likely to get ripped off by a woman driver than a male. (Yes I know! Utterly sexist!)
When I saw a female driver drop off a passenger, I sent QC to grab the taxi. I had no sooner closed the door, when the Taxi was surrounded by men who refused to let the taxi take off. Then the police were called. The woman was arrested. Why? I'll tell you!
This woman did not have a taxi license. How did they know this? Because they always knew it, but didn't care. Firstly, arriving taxis are only allowed to drop off passengers; they are not allowed to pick them up. This is related to some union rules. But it was happening all the time we were on the pavement.
The real issue, was that this lady had picked up a foreigner, and foreigners are both stupid and rich. There was no way these taxi drivers were going to let "her" take the foreigner.
|Here she is talking with the Police. It was all my fault. Damn those foreigners!|
While the police dealt with the matter, I returned to sit against the wall of the terminal building. Naturally I was surrounded by drivers wanting me to go with them.
For 15 minutes I just kept shaking my head "No!" Finally I heard the various drivers discussing the price they should charge me. The highest was 120 RMB and the lowest was 100 RMB. Finally they told QC to make the offer. I still said no. Meanwhile QC got very agitated, but I was so angry I couldn't have cared less. The only reason the price was so low was because I had made it obvious before a price was offered, that I would not travel with them. Of course, they also didn't know how much the lady was intending to charge us.
It took 45 minutes for them to give up, and then only after I whipped out my camera and started taking photographs. They literally RAN to keep from being photographed. I didn't encourage hostility by directly photographing them, I merely started taking 'general' photos.
|In the side street there was a 'mall'. Top left photograph is taken from my hotel window. Bottom right photo is of the entrance to 'The market of the Exotic'. Very interesting place.|
After an hour on the pavement, I sent QC to talk to a male driver that was dropping off his passenger, and he advised QC to walk to the end of the building, where he would pick us up. And so we did! What was the fare? By meter, 76 RMB. I gave him 90 RMB. It took about 45 minutes to arrive at our destination.
We checked into the hotel, and QC agreed to stay with me for the night so that in the morning I could at least get my bearings before he disappeared into the family fold. It was a decent hotel, which cost only about 350 RMB per night, and came will all amenities, including an illegal casino, brothel, and bathhouse. It was located right near the train station of the modern 'Fast train' into TianJin proper, and was apparently not far from the beach, although I never made it that far, thanks to Chinese hospitality.
|One block from the hotel are some impressive new apartments, beside which runs the 'fast train'.|
The next day the two of us spent a little time wandering around the immediate area before he went off to his uncle's place, but he returned later to invite me to dinner with "the family." That family turned out to be about 9 men, and dinner was held in a restaurant. Those who have experienced it understand what I am about to say, but the rest of you will just have believe that I am telling the truth.
A guest at dinner gets everything free and is expected to both smoke and drink, and I mean SMOKE AND DRINK, and drink and drink and drink ... Being aware of this I made sure that QC informed the men that I was not a drinker, but despite this, I ended up drinking two big bottles of beer. But first things first.
|Dinner in a fancy restaurant in Tang Gu (top) and the kitchen area in the restaurant that Wang Yunqi took us to in TianJin|
As the guest of honour, I was given the menu to choose the evening's dishes. So naturally I did so. Putting one hand over my eyes, I pointed to 4 different spots on the menu and handed the menu back to QC. That at least made an impression upon them.
Dinner was great (seen in the top photo to the left), and there was plenty to choose from. No one was 'too' pushy and so I did not mind accepting a second invitation the following night. This time it was in a different restaurant, but this time it was in a private room. This is when it started to get pushy, with constant pleas for me to eat fish and other seafood. (Tang Gu is right on the coast). And then the pushiness entered into the drinking stage.
You have to understand something about Chinese hospitality. Drinking is the host's way of demonstrating their "respect" for you, and you reciprocate by further drinking, and for most of the time it is a case of "GamBei," or "bottom's up," with two people draining the entire contents of their glasses, and this extends to spirits as well.
After my first few drinks I got drunk (I'm a two pot screamer! - an aussie term meaning that two standard glasses of beer knocks me off of my feet). Once I realised that I had drunk too much, I just continued to drink. I know that there is no logic in that, but for me, it is a case of clear headedness. If my head is not clear, then I may as well keep drinking. I got plastered! This was a very good sign indeed as far as my hosts were concerned. But boy did I pay for it next day! I'll spare you the details.
|A lot of bull and a big tree in the Mall in Tang Gu.|
Having spent most of the day in the bathroom and not having eaten, I was disinclined to accept the third invitation to dinner that arrived at about 5pm next day. I told QC that I would not eat another meal in a restaurant, and he assured me that this time it would be in his Uncle's home. I also advised him that I would not go if it meant that I had to drink alcohol. I simply refused!
Not to worry though, because he assured me that if I didn't want to drink, then I did not have to. As anyone who has ever lived in China will tell you, what they say and what they do are two different things.
Dinner at home with the family turned out to be another 9 men being served by two of the wives. In China, women do not sit and eat with the menfolk on special occasions. It is a woman's job to prepare the house and the meal, to serve the food, to eat whatever is left, and to clean up the mess. And this is what the two ladies dutifully did.
|Dinner at the uncle's house, and a shot of QC and his brother in my hotel room. Brother and uncle slept in one single bed,QC and I slept in the other.|
The first problem with dinner came in the form of alcohol, which I refused to drink, but of course they insisted. QC, while proud to be counted as a man because he was drinking himself drunk and smoking cigarettes (which he had never done before), didn't think manhood extended to translating my apologies to the family, and continued to tell me to drink and eat the seafood. I ended up telling him that if he would not translate my words, then I would get up, walk over to the front door to the apartment, open it, turn back and give the "finger" to everyone, and walk out. "I won't loose face by doing this," I told him.
He argued and argued with me, but refused to tell them what I was saying. On the other side of the coin, he would always translate for them anything of what I said that they wanted to know about, but would not translate anything that they said in reply.
|A couple of blocks from the hotel and to one end of the Mall lies this wonderful park.|
Now I must point out here that I am allergic to 'prawns/shrimp' and anything that has a shell. As a special treat they prepared 'prawns/shrimp' for me. QC refused to tell them that I was allergic, and kept insisting that I could just try some. It got to the stage where I lifted up my voice and yelled at him that I would eat it, but that he had better call an Ambulance and tell them of my allergy. After all, if "saving face" is so important to him, then I have no objection to committing suicide. He did finally tell them.
Throughout this episode, one "uncle" was becoming quite obviously angry with me, and in turn my anger-meter nearly went through the roof. It was a horrible night all round and I was glad to get out of there. I would like to say that after that everything went well, but it didn't. There wasn't a day during that week when I didn't fight and argue with QC over his refusal to translate something, or ask someone questions on my behalf.
Usually what happens is this. Let's say you are at the reception desk and you ask for a question to be posed to the receptionist. When you receive the reply, you realise that there was some communication difficulty and the receptionist did not get the point of the question. So you rephrase your question, but your translator won't ask it. This generally leads to an argument about the uselessness of the second question. You try to explain that it is about effective communication, but all you meet is something like; "She did not mention anything about that!" And you say, "Rhat is why we must ask another question and be more specific;" To which comes the reply: "But it is really the same question and she would have told us if she had known!"
Finally you win out and the question is asked again, and suddenly the receptionist catches on and gives you the desired reply. Then you say something like, "See! I told you. It is about 'how' the question is asked!" Back comes the reply, "But I didn't know this!" To which you say, "I know you didn't, but I did. All you had to do was translate my words and we could have saved all this hassle."
|Top shot is of an alley we walked through to get to the restaurant. Bottom shot is of the main shopping area in Tang Gu.|
I've had this type of argument so many times with so many Chinese people, and I'm not sure exactly what their stubbornness is about. It may have something to do with the Chinese dislike of asking questions, or of losing face, or the Chinese mentality that foreigners are all stupid. I just don't know. But during that week with QC, I faced this constantly, as I did also his constant refusal to tell me what people were saying.
One day I was in the shower and the phone rang. I forgot he was with me and so picked up the phone in the bathroom after two rings. There was a Chinese lady on the phone who didn't speak English. I called out to QC to pick up the phone, but he kept refusing saying things like: There is nobody on the phone � the phone is not ringing � there is no point, etc. All the while I'm yelling out, saying I am on the bathroom phone, and there is a lady on the phone and if he would just pick it up he could talk to her. Naturally he refused.
When I came out of the bathroom, I sat him down and explained the linked phone system to him, to which he replied, "But I didn't know about this!" "Yes!" I screamed, "And you refused to do such a simple thing that could have taught you all about it in just one second of time." Oh well! It doesn't matter! It was probably not important!
The other problem I had with QC was also related to Chinese Custom. They kept wanting to know what I would like to do, and the only thing I wanted to do was go to the beach.
|Down by the waterfront, an interesting sight.|
This, however, was not something that they wanted to do, so it never happened. I spent so much time that week being walked all over the place in an effort to show me "things" that either were not open, or closed down, or moved, or something, that I really began to wonder if any of them had any knowledge of their city at all.
I was also invited to a wedding. This involved killing time until 11:00 one morning, and to get rid of us till then we were sent to the park beside what looked like a river, but was actually the ocean being blocked from view by an island.
When the appointed hour arrived for us to go to the wedding, the plans got changed "because there would be too many people there." About the only thing that happened that week that I did enjoy was being taken to the Bathhouse in the Hotel. Of course, I didn't know that this was a pre-requisite to going to the brothel after the bath.
Once again, I refused the family's hospitality, and settled for a plain massage, wth QC in the room during the event. He spent the time talking with the girl (not translating of course), and I was both bored and unsatisfied because "massage" was obviously not something she was good at. The benefit of the exercise was that it provided me with the wherewithal to go to the Bath House on my own, and have a regular massage by the male attendants who knew how to do that; That was an experience. I am used to having massages in the local bath house in Hong Hu, but was quite unprepared for the experience in TianJin.
|This is actually the ocean, although it looks like a river. This 'elevator' type bridge is very famous.|
They insisted that I could not have the massage unless I first had the "scrub down." Having had it once, and once only, in Hong Hu, I was definitely not going to let the man scrub off all my skin. It hurts!
He, however, agreed to be gentle, and he was.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I thoroughly enjoyed the bath, scrub and massage, and even went down to the casino afterward to play the poker machines. But this was the extent of my pleasure in Tang Gu, or at least the extent of pleasure while in the company of others.
|Interesting and down to earth sculptures in the park on the waterfront.|
I did spend time walking around the streets on my own, seeing what was to see, but as it is a new developing area, there was not really a lot to do.
The day before I left I had arranged to meet with Wang Yunqi and travel into TianJin with her for the day. The day started out as usual with QC refusing to translate or explain or ask questions for me etc.
|The building designs along the waterfront park are all meant to symbolise sailing ships.|
This boy lived with me for a whole year, and still couldn't string three sentences together; and his inability to speak fluent English resulted in his refusal to speak it. That is typical Chinese logic. My friend's English had been learned in her childhood from her father, and she had not had much occasion to use it, so while she could rely on QC to translate what I had said, I could not rely on him to put Chinese into English.
You, dear reader, are probably feeling sorry for poor QC, so let me just digress and tell you about an email I received from Wang Yunqi after I had returned to Hong Hu.
She 'suggested' that I should learn to be "patient" with QC and other students, and pointed out that a student's failure reflects the teacher's ability. I politely informed her that QC had had me as a teacher for four months, before he came to live with me for one year. He had just finished his 6th year of English studies and was about to head off to university. How long IS one supposed to remain patient?
Visiting TianJin proper.
As I've said, the day before I left for home, I met with Wang Yunqi, who picked us up about 8:00 a.m., I think. She was in Tang Gu on Business, and was being transported around by an old yellow taxi van for the day. After we had made a few stops in relation to her work, we headed off to TianJin proper.
Along the way we called into this brand new suburb/city that was brand spanking and sparkling new. It was a model of modernity. She took me into a building, within which there was an eatery with tables and chairs, and we did a little photo shoot. Then we went outside to visit the beautiful park and gardens.
|Top: Wang Yunqi and I. Bottom view is of the platform toward which I was headed when I fell in the drink.|
While we were doing that, I noticed that around the square there were sets of stairways leading up to what might be termed a lookout, and wondered if I could get a clear shot of a building that I had tried to capture while we were driving (5th photo in this article). Running down the center of this square, there was an unfenced pond of water.
I had noticed and noted it, but while thinking about the photo, and while looking through the viewfinder of my camera, I simply forgot about the pond.
You guessed it! Right into the drink! I hadn't a clue what had happened, as I lay there looking at the pavement. My first thoughts were for the camera.
And while I was trying to make sense of what had just happened, QC and Wang Yunqi just stood on the other side asking, "Are you alright?" Mmmmmm... Yes! I was just fine. Both my shoes were full of water, and I had hurt both my shin and my hand. It only took a minute to get over the shock, and then the hilarity of the situation hit me. Just as well too, for if I had not been able to laugh at myself, I most certainly would have been offended by all those Chinese garderners who had taken a break from their tedium to have a good laugh at my expense.
|QC and Wang Yunqi in the square. The bottom frame shows the 'water splash' on the ground as a result of my fall.|
Having picked myself up and regained my usual poise and demeanour, I took the photograph that I wanted, and then a couple of photos of Wang Yunqi and QC, after which we departed for TianJin proper. That trip was however another exercise in QC's refusal to translate the things I was saying. "We don't say thing's like that in Chinese. Why do you want to say that. She won't be interested in that?", etc.
I was actually a little disappointed with TianJin, having read so much about it, and this despite the fact that the driver took us on a guided tour criss crossing the city or at least some section of it.
|Not sure what this is in TianJin, but it looks good. I was interested in some old buildings, but Chinese like all the new or modern stuff.|
Eventually we came to a beautiful pavillion and accompanying markets, but don't ask me what it was all about, because I don't know. I only know two things.
The first is that I stopped to buy some socks so that I would have dry socks to put into the new shoes which I wanted to buy, (and kept saying that I wanted to buy - but which kept falling on deaf ears).
The second is that while walking through the markets, I tried to find out what 'that old building is', but kept getting informed that it was 'old' and not worth looking at.
I wanted to have a look at it, but we just didn't have the time. Besides, it was 'old and not worth looking at!' If you come to China you must be aware that 'old' things are not want 'they' want you to see.
What "you" want to see is unimportant. You are just a dumb foreigner. It's better to see what they are proud to show you. It is "new!"
Finally we arrived at a restaurant which, while not being overly impressive from the outside, was magnificent inside. If you have ever been to a German beer hall, then maybe you couldn't understand what I say when I say that that is what it reminded me of.
Have you ever been to a modern brick Catholic Church? Horrible aren't they? But the old ones... well they have character don't they? This restaurant had an 'old' character, and not a few odd characters within. Sorta like the German beer hall.
After QC and Wang Yunqi placed our order with the attendant, QC and I went on a little inspection tour of the place. It really was facinating, and definately the best part of the day. We were friends again!
Mind you, that didn't last long. When lunch arrived, I couldn't find anything to eat.
|Upstairs/Downstairs in the Restaurant in TianJin|
You see, Chinese people like to 'treat you proper'. Only the best will do you see (especially on a company account). And of course, being Chinese, QC not once suggested that I wouldn't like these foods, for as curtesy requires, he gave due deference to the hostess' will and choice.
Now I know some of you want to think unkindly of me at this point, but seriously, do you like frogs legs? Pigs Trotters? Chicken Feet? These aren't things I can get my teeth into.
Actually I don't remember what was on the table, only that I wasn't about to eat any of it, especially the fish, which, despite all protests, they insisted that I 'just try'.
I do remember that I only ate rice and some vegetables. Then I heard them discussing my favourite meal, and guessed that they were going to order a dish. "Don't even think about it!" I said, "I'm full now and I'm not going to eat it!" Well of course they went ahead and got it and then insisted that because they got it for me, that I SHOULD eat it. I stubbornly refused. Just on Principle!
Judge me harshly if you wish, but westerners who live in China ALL get tired at times of the constant manipulation, even if it IS to please you.
After lunch, Wang Yunqi took us to a "Blind Doctor" for a foot massage. The first time I saw a "Blind Doctor Massage" sign, I burst out laughing at the poor English. (A common thing in China). It was a long time, however, before I discovered that the sign just states the truth. They are blind. One night in Hong Hu I went to get a massage, and just picked one place at random. I walked in and even though I said the Chinese words for "massage" back-to-front, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why he could not work out my hand signals. I'm standing in a massage place, using my hands to indicate that I want a massage, and asking "How much?" and this dumb dude doesn't know what the heck I want. Took a minute or so for me to realise. Duh! Sorta like the time my sister who was a bus driver, heard a raised voice during "peak hour" say, "Does this bus go to Ennogera?" "You blind or something?" she yells back without looking up. "Yes!," retorts the voice, and there, standing in the queue, is a blind man with a seeing eye dog. "Damn," she says, "That makes two of us!"
|Interior views of the restaurant that Wang Yunqi took us to.|
Anyway, back to the Blind Doctor in Tianjin. It was his first encounter with a foreigner, and he was pleased as punch. His excitement could only have been greater had he actually been able to see me, but then again, maybe not. Some people would rather know me from a distance.
As QC and I got our foot massages, there was this man on the table between us (the table was between us), who was having some 'treatment' for an illness, that involved the use of some heat induced suction cups strategically located all over his back. It made for an interesting photograph I thought, and he was quite pleased to have me take it.
When our 'treatments' were over, Wang Yunqi asked the doctors for an analysis of our health.
|Either some disease, or what happens when you go to the local masseur cum herbal medicine doctor. These welts are the result of suction, and the process of achieving them somehow cures illness.|
I forget now what advice they gave to QC, but when asked about my health, they said that my feet were "too hard." Chinese Relexologists can diagnose your health by the feel of your feet (ask my sister - she will tell you. She swears by her Chinese doctor in Australia).
Anyway, either the doctor had not bothered to consider my health, or my feet really were too hard to diagnose. Probably comes from a life time of walking around barefoot.
With the massages over, Wang Yunqi took us to the Rapid Train, and sent us on our way back to Tang Gu. The trip took only 10 minutes or so, and I spent my time trying to take a photograph of the guard at each station who stands to attention and salutes as the train leaves. I have heaps of photographs of hands, blurred images and "half faces," but never did get a photograph of this interesting custom.
After a day of constant battles with QC, I could see he was a little down, so I put my hand on his knee. Body language is such a wonderful thing. He then pushed into me, which was his body language for, "Everything is OK now!"
At around 5:00 p.m. that evening in Tang Gu, after we left the train, I said my good byes to QC. He caught a taxi to his uncle's place, and I walked back to my hotel. I did not see him again until the day he dropped in at my home to pick up the balance of his gear. He has passed out of my life now, and has headed off to university in JingZhou, to do of all things, "an English Major."
I'm glad I went to TianJin, and I did have a good day (ultimately!) with Wang Yunqi and QC. I just wish I could have seen that 'old building', bought some dry shoes, eaten some edible food, and not had to fight against Chinese custom in order to have a decent conversation.
I'll miss QC! (no one to fight with now!)
|Greek mythology or something psychological?|
|Top photo is the view of the grounds from my window, and the bottom photo is of the sculptures in the side street.|
|Night time activities in the park. Come one - come all!|
|Day time views of this cross between Chinese and Greek architecture.|
R.P.BenDedek is the pseudonym of the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (www.kingscalendar.com), and he is a guest columnist at Magic City Morning Star News. An Australian, he currently teaches Conversational English in China. Other Stories