First backlogged blog entry: Should have been posted sometime in late October…
You will first need to understand that my boyfriend bought a Chang Jiang, a 1970’s motorbike straight from the Peoples Liberation Army, complete with a sidecar. Initially I refused to sit in ‘said’ sidecar because lets be honest…its lame. Who wants to be the passive women on the side gazing up lovingly and passively at her ‘man’? Those who know me will know the answer to that question. But upon some re-evaluation, which included the sketchiness of the seat behind the driver (it tips on its loose screws around corners!) & the relatively plushy cushion in the sidecar along with the surprising leg room, I caved and quickly became addicted to cruising Dalian in the side car. The culmination of this addiction occurred on a late October weekend red-cross sponsored trip to PuLanDian, a poor area of Northern Liaoning. It looked something like this: 30+ people, Chinese, French, American, Canadian & Polish, an agglomeration of languages from said people’s home countries, businessmen, teachers, engineers & 1 French Mime, 4 vehicles carrying supplies and 12 Chang Jiang’s refurnished in varying colours and styles. There is something intoxicating about being in a convoy. No joke. I don’t really like motorcycles, I find the groups of choppers speeding past my car window loud and irritating and irresponsible on principle, but this convoy was almost poetic in comparison. The rip roaring sounds of 12 bikes starting in tandem, the comradeship as bikes slowed down or sped up to turn in synchronization…which didn’t always work but at least the idea was there. There were moments were we rolled through fields of drying corn stalks, past skinny birch trees, past farmers with wide eyes and open mouths, past men sitting on bull pulled wagons, their whips hanging causally, limply in their hands. Then there were the other times. The times it seemed like we were driving through the small ass holes of China. The towns that were coated in coal & smoke, where Neil’s bike made sketchy maneuvers that left my breath bated and knuckles white and my face streaked with lines of dirt kicked up from the dry streets. The combination of those experiences left me somewhere between high on adrenaline and purely exhilarated.
Perhaps I should explain the purpose of this trip. It is sponsered by the Dalian Motor Cross Friendship Club, a group of Chinese and expat owners of Chang Jiangs. This particular trip was also sponsored by the Red Cross who were meant to accompany us to a small village school where we (the Canadian teachers) would be giving some small lessons in English and dropping off school supplies. Well we didn’t make it to this school because the government forbade it last minute. Instead we brought our performance (the French mime) and lessons to a community center for adults with disabilities. The conditions here made me sad. This was the first time I have seen individuals with disabilities in China who were not begging on the streets but I don’t think that these conditions rated much higher then street homes. Cold, desolate & filthy. People from the adjourning village piled into one concrete lined room to watch the ‘performance’, mainly the foreigners and the presents ‘we’ brought. The chaos of people grabbing toys and rooting through bags left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a growing certainty that charity like this does little to disrupt the power imbalances that allow poverty to be maintained and festered.
After our ‘good deed’ of the day we proceeded up into the misty foothills of an area known for its cherry blossoms. Here I had a couple of ‘firsts’. First, I became a member of the Dalian Red Cross after shots of baiju and sloppy impressed speeches from the Red Cross members. Then I watched as grown men challenged one another to a drinking contest ( a very legitimate Chinese cultural custom) and have to be put to bed like babies. Actually that’s definitely not the first time I’ve seen that! Then I went to sleep on a Kong, which is a raised, communal wooden platform that has heat from the cooking channeled underneath it to provide warmth. Our Kong was beside a massive mount of sweet potatoes drying on the concrete floor. Some of them met their squishy end under the heels of some drunken roommates stumbling out of the room mid-night. These firsts mark the culmination of my initial big first, being a part of a biker gang, more officially known as the ‘Bombers’. I have torn feelings about this status but for know I will eat my words and say that motorcycles with sidecars are unmistakably cool and you cannot say otherwise until you have ridden in one.
Second backlogged blog entry: Should have been posted sometime last week…
Last weekend I woke up and checked my clock three times before getting out of bed. At 6:30am sun should be streaming through my blinds. I should hear cars honking and the familiar scales of my neighbor piano player. Instead I saw pitch black night. I heard silence. Outside was as dark as midnight and the city seemed to still be sleeping…something it rarely does even at night. It looked like the weather had skipped from crisp fall to thunderous winter in a heartbeat. Jenn and I discussed how weird this was but then proceeded with out day; getting ready, eating breakfast and catching a cab to work. But it just got stranger. Mid morning the sky was suddenly a dark sunken yellow. The wind howled and spun turrets of what was it…I opened my window, put my hand out and pulled it back in coated in…dust. In the middle of Dalian, on a peninsula thousands of KM away from any sand we were smack in the middle of a desert dust storm. How that even happens I still have no idea! Somehow the Gobi had managed to blow into Dalian and settle on the buildings and cars there, leaving its sandy remains. It was the strangest day of weather I have ever seen. No joke this is what I was hearing from students…”It’s Armageddon! everyone run!”, “I thought we had 1 more year until 2012?”, “Will we ever see daylight again?” and my personal favorite from a 6 year old “Ms. Wolfenden, why is God throwing mud at us? Doesn’t he know thats not friendly?”
Desertification gave us a wickedly weird day of weather but it’s rather serious in this part of the world. The Gobi gets 5 feet closer to Beijing every single year. That, in geographical speeds, is like setting something on fast forward. The Han Chinese, like many people in different countries, expand their agriculture to feed its populations and in the process destroy fragile grasslands and spreading dry dust where there was life. In Inner Mongolia this has also almost destroyed the ethnic minority of Mongols. Nothing like a sand storm in a city to remind us that we are on thin ice with mother nature.
Third backlogged blog entry: Should have been posted sometime… today!
I had the most deliciously wonderful experience this weekend. It’s called the Kempinski and it is a four star German hotel located about 10 minutes away from my house. Paying 550RMB (little less then 100$) bought me a king sized bed a TV with English channels (hello Discovery Channel!), two hours of unlimited free drinking and eating (this included hard or impossible to find delicacies of chilled white wine and smoked salmon), free continental breakfast, a swimming pool, sauna and hot tub AND an Olympic sized bath tub that opens onto the bedroom for TV viewing privileges. In a country that does not have bath tubs this is simply amazing. In a country that does not have public swimming pools, English TV or decent white wine it is incomparable luxury. So I am in an understandably wonderful mood/state of relaxation. Going to Germany for a weekend was well worth the money for the little piece of sanity it just returned to me.
Hmm…This trilogy seemed to get shorter as it progressed. I suppose that is a good thing though, otherwise it would be competing with Lord of the Rings for length. Then all of your eyes would be tired, your minds bored and my wrists suffering from carpal tunnel. And thus the trilogy concludes! With scope and sequence unmaintained but my writing abilities spent.