Mystery Solved!

Since we’ve been in Jiaxing, we’ve heard some kind of music playing in the street every morning roughly around 6:00am.  When we had the windows open in the late summer, it was fairly loud and woke us up a few times; now, we hear it but a little softer.  We could not figure out what it could be.  A car alarm?  A Hurdy-Gurdy man?  The tune was the same every day and would start loudly and then sort of fade away.  Yesterday, I happened to be up early and was looking out the kitchen window, when I heard the music.  It belongs to the street cleaner!  The truck goes by every day, apparently, playing this music at it goes.  Think ice cream man, with a softer sort of techno sound.  And here I had told Geoff’s sister that the streets are never cleaned.   Not only does the truck run daily, the sidewalk sweepers appear to work every day, including weekends.  I spotted a fellow sweeping with his broom before 7:00am this Saturday morning.

We understand that we are the oddities here.  Hard to miss: people openly stare, children point, and scooter drivers narrowly avoid crashes as they rubber-neck  us while passing by.   We witnessed a classic today:  although we couldn’t understand the Chinese, we surmised that the parents told their 3-4 yr. old daughter, “Look, look, white people1”  The child stopped dead in her tracks and looked up at us with a combination of awe and confusion.  We, on the other hand, must restrain our smiles and stares when we see grown men in pyjamas standing on the corner talking on cell phones (or woman out for a stroll – see photo). Meanwhile, they check us out as we pass.  In Vancouver, a phone call might be made to the proper authorities.

Is it pajamas or pyjamas?

Last weekend, I went to a BC Offshore Principals’ conference near Suzhou.  About 2 dozen people attended from all over China, Thailand, Viet Nam and Korea.  Some of them are in very remote locations, which made Jiaxing seem like the heart of the action.  Very interesting to meet people who have been doing this a long time and to hear their perspectives.  We Skyped a person from the BC Ministry who is n charge of international education and spoke with her for quite a long time.  She had asked for feedback, so a large part of our meeting was spent discussing various common issues and problems and potential solutions, Skype also allowed us to connect with some people who provide student information systems, which was less interesting.  Nonetheless, new adventures presented themselves.

First of all was the location.  The conference was held at a large secondary school which is somewhere off the highway between Shanghai and Suzhou, aka, the middle of nowhere.  At one time, the site housed an amusement park, like a small scale Disneyland, with 3 hotel towers on a lake.  The rides have all gone, of course, and a school and gym have been built, but the old hotel now serves as dorms for the kids and housing for the staff.   Because it is so isolated, a small bar has been built on school property, away from the school but near the staff accommodation/dorms.  Yes, that is correct:  a bar on school property.  It is run by the principal’s wife and gives the staff a place to kick back a little.  We went there on the Friday of our conference and it was a spectacular setting, the moon shining down on the water, lighting a dock and gazebo built over the lake.  Our hosts provided a real Canadian Bar B Q for us, with baked potatoes, salad, fabulous baked beans and steaks.  A special treat was Bar B Q’ed tofu with Mongolian spice.  I squeezed the recipe out of the V-P who cooked it:  seafood tofu (there are many, many varieties here) sliced thin, then skewered and sprinkled with any concoction of hot spice and herbs you have in your cupboard.  Over easy a few times on the Barby and it was ready to eat.  Fantastic!

The second adventure came a little later.   As we were sitting around chatting in the bar, I looked to my right to see the woman next to me was in some trouble.  “She’s having a seizure,” I said to the others near-by.  We helped her to the floor and waited until she began to regain consciousness.  Remember where we are?  Miles from anywhere in China.   Time seemed to slow down for me because it felt like it took a long time to get her in a vehicle and get on the road to a hospital.  I volunteered to go and rode with her in the backseat of the Principal’s car.  On the way out, he picked up his secretary to act as translator, which turned out to be a very good idea.  He told me that it was better for him to drive as ambulances will often not cross over district boundaries and would leave us stranded.  It being equal distance to Shanghai or Suzhou, he opted for Shanghai where we knew we would find English-speaking doctors.

We made our way into emergency and got our friend admitted.  Once it became apparent that she had stabilized, we had lots of fun, actually, conversing with the doctor, telling the story of what had happened and taking notes on the prescribed course of action.  A CT scan and a blood test were administered.   At one point, the doctor began to suggest that the patient have an MRI when possible as they didn’t have a machine at this particular hospital.  She started in English, trying to find the words, then gave up, saying, “Oh, forget it.”  Forget it, we did and headed back to Suzhou with our friend, who was deemed well enough to make the trip.  There was no question her priority was sleep, so we got her back to her room asap and sent her to bed.

The hotel was another adventure.  Judging from the things to buy in my room, I had been given the hourly-rate room: a wide assortment of condoms and lubricants, as well as male and female underwear, were available to buy right there on the bathroom counter.  A description of the carpet would put you off solids, so suffice to say that I kept my socks on and the blind down on the glass wall of the shower that faced onto the bedroom.  Not surprisingly, I had a good night’s sleep.  I was told later that these establishments are called “rest hotels” and cater to couples who live with parents and in-laws and lack for any kind of privacy.  Apparently, they like to cut loose on occasion.

The last day of the conference, we were finished at noon and headed back to Shanghai, to the train station at the west end of town.  I was meeting Geoff closer to the center of the city, so hopped on the subway.  Because I stupidly left my cell phone in my desk, we couldn’t connect and hadn’t discussed in any detail where we would meet.  I only knew to get off at Jiang ‘An temple, which I did.  To make a long story short, I ended up spotting a café on the second floor of a near-by mall and went up to use their free wi-fi while enjoying a great coffee.  Eventually, I left and met Geoff in the plaza beside the temple. Our hotel was across the street and I was thrilled to find that it was not at all like the hotel where I had been staying.  Had the best sleep of our entire time in China, and thoroughly enjoyed the soaker tub and rain forest shower!  Bliss!  (See Questions, questions, questions for info on the rest of our time in Shanghai)

We have had a hectic week and are enjoying a calm weekend in Jiaxing. Our plan is to go back to Shanghai next weekend as I realize I will need some warm jackets for teaching.  With no heat in the classroom, I will have to layer up, so we will first head to the Fabric Market and order some clothes to be picked up the following weekend when we return to see Elton John!

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