Chasing an english teacher - and a farm that has gone


1. Chengdu 12.04.10

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3. Chengdu 14.04.10

4. Chengdu - Maoxian 15.04.10

5. Maoxian 16.04.10

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51. Deyang-Chengdu 01.06.10

52. Chengdu 02.06.10

53. Chengdu - CPH 03.06.10



Letter 5


Friday 16.04.10 West Qiang Homeland Hotel
I'm curious about the breakfast. The dining hall looks like it's not ready yet. All the big round tables each with ten chairs around are there, but the tables are covered with thin plastic, that's not removed even where the guests are. We start with a glass of warm milk. This milk has a TASTE. The chinese haven't been used to milk and milk products, but along with the common "westernisation" they're emerging. Then the rest is brought: a big bowl of rice gruel, small plates with fried peanuts, thin shredded cucumber and some shreds of tofu in a spicy sauce (I think). Some steamed buns and two eggs. That's chinese breakfast in a hotel.
When I get to the eggs I ask for salt. It's not there and that must be easy to understand, when I shake my hand above the egg? No. There must be a difference in the culture here. After a long time a girl appears with two small bowls: one with soya sauce and one with... sugar! It does look a bit like it, right?
The buns are two of the kind without anything in the middle, "man tou" I think is the name, and one small one stuffed with something, "bao zi", I think. The milk is sweet. Nothing of this, except the eggs, would I eat for brekfast at home - but it fills the stomach alright.
They are eating loudly at one of the other tables. The guests at the other tables have shown a small note when they entered. I remember having got a note like that too, which should be presented to the staff when... I didn't pay that much attention. Noone has asked for mine. It's not necessary. There's no doubt about who's the "laowei" - it's the first time I hear this word used on me.
When I leave the girl tells me it's ten yuan and show with two crossed fingers the character for "shi", ten. Oh, so it wasn't included, I thought it usually was such places, but my experiences on this matter isn't that big.
In the reception the manager is doing the daily peptalk to the girls that are all lined up. I guess I'd better wait to tell I want to stay one more night.
I take a walk towards the school to look for mr. Xia Wei, but first I buy a notebook for writing and drawing. That can often be useful.
At the school I look at the brand new school building. When I try to enter the gate I'm stopped by the guard. I try to say "english teacher", but that doesn't help. So I continue around the school area and up the road where my contact person lived with her family. It looks completely different. No green trees where a small path leads somewhere. I don't remember exactly where it was, but it seems the farm has been levelled to the ground. Now there is a long wall along the road and behind it a construction site. I have a picture of the family which I enlarged and want to give to them, that might help me but not now.
I take a look in Lonely Planet and ask in the reception if there's an internet cafe in Maoxian? The answer is yes. And when I try to make them draw a map so I can find it, a young man offers his help. "No money", he says and that's his only english words. He has a small red car and we go for a longer ride. He speaks no english and neither do the others he invite on this trip. But it doesn't matter. We go to the other side of the river. I think a bridge is missing, because we go all the way to the other end of town to cross. The cafe is down at the center that I don't know well. The guy pay an amount and I'm placed at a computer. Unfortunately the machine won't allow me to install "Active Sync", which I need to get in contact with my PDA, and the card reader, that I couldn't use in Chengdu, I haven't brought.
Messenger is not installed like it was in Chengdu so I try my own Messenger Portable. I succeed to log on but everytime I'm just about to send a message, the machine restarts. After 3 attempts I give up. I want to pay him his expenses, but he won't let me. My next project is to find a bookstore and in my own home fabricated dictionary I've found the word: "shu dian". So we go to the bookstore andd he buys me a map. It's turns out to be a map of the region (Aba it's called) and among all the cities there is no Maoxian. It's only 4 RMB but I want to pay him anyway, but he still won't let me. What's next on the programme? "Laoshi yingyue" - english teacher. I need somebody that speaks some english.


 A certain english teacher is on the line ...   ...and here he is, my friend from 2 years back

It takes more than an hour. I remember looking at my watch several times, because I reckon Xia Wei has a lunch break between 12 and 13. First we go to one school, but it's not the right one in my opinion. So we go on to "my" one. No luck. Later I understand what's the problem. Back to the first one again. He keeps on phoning and we wait at different locations for something or someone to appear. He makes some girls come close to the car but their english is too limited. In the end we go up a dirt road to the school. Maoxian is almost one big construction site. Houses are being torn down and houses are being constructed. Dust and earth all over. We wait again - I don't know for what. In the end we leave the car and walk up against the school building. There are lots of students and they're curious and when there are enough it seems their collective knowledge of english does it. Some wants me to join them to their class.
It's touching so little it takes to make them happy. A foreigner in Maoxian - and in THEIR class! The most strange is that it turns out Xia Wei is THEIR english teacher. One of them calls him and soon after I speak to him on the phone! I don't remember him that clearly and the conversation is a bit difficult but we make a deal of some kind. One of the students get the phone in the end and we start leaving the class again and walk down to the road across several constructions. Xia Wei turns up in his little red car which he's still got, so things can't be that bad. When I see him it all comes back. He's really not a person that one would expect to help a foreigner like me, he seems quite reserved. Maybe he's a little like me, even I hope to be more extrovert and humorous. But he's stolid. Now I learn (like two years ago) a lot. The school was actually not middle school like I thought, but highschool. But the new school has turned into a middle school and the highschool has moved into these new buildings.
It's actually his wife who teaches english in this class because she's a teacher too. Would I like him to take me around town? Yes I'd like that. And we go around town and have a look at most of the schools. I think there are 3-4 primary schools, 3 middle schools and 1 highschool.
We go to the square in front of the town hall where he took me the first day, it's a bit more tidy today. What else can he do for me? Well, I wonder where my contact person Sherry and her family have gone and we go there behind the new middleschool and he tells me they're constructing the new Chiang Museum there. The majority of the people in Maoxian belongs to the ethnic minority called the Chiangs. The earthquake was a violent strike to them and it's been decided to build this new museum and cultural center dedicated to them. They are of tibetan heritage. We go to my hotel to get my picture of the family and with this in his hand he finds out within 5 min where they live. It's an old woman dressed in the Chiang clothes he's asking, telling me to stay in the car, a foreigner will make her afraid I guess. It's in the blue houses. The blue houses are these temporary houses put up shortly after the earthquake where everybody was living in the streets. He has to make use of the picture some more times then we're outside no. 12 knocking. We're invited inside and there sits, beside some chinese people of which one is Sherrys sister, another foreigner, that I saw this morning, on my way to the school. I did wonder what a foreigner was doing here then. He turns up to be french and has a chinese wife. A lot of strange things happen in China. There COULD be more foreigners here, but there are not many. And then we two happen to have mutual friends here.
The connection is this: Francis, the frenchman, is married to Jeanne, whos mother (they're from southern part of China) once made a journey to Jiuzhaigou (the national park up north from here). There she met a young man who became like a son to her. It's this young mans family they're visiting. The father is manager of the hotel where they're staying, and which is in the samee street as mine. This family is befriended with Sherrys family and now these two families have invited Francis and his wife (who are tourists here) to a dinner party, and as I know Sherry (who's still at work) it's only natural that I join them.
But now Xia Wei has to leave to pick up his daughter, but I get his phone number, so I can just call him.
I accompany Francis and Jeanne, or more correctly we're driven, cause the young man, who's her mother's "other son", take them in the hotel car. It's 16.30 now and I've had nothing to eat since this morning, but lots of tea in no.12. I consider walking back to my hotel, but it would be easier if I stay, then I can join them when they're picked up for the dinner. And I can just do whatever I like. They're staying in a suite with a living room. You get the feeling that her mothers second sons father is the owner of the hotel. So they don't know about prices, but Jeanne asks and I also have a look at one of the simpler rooms. 120 RMB and not quite as luxurious as mine, but all the facilities are there. Even the electricity andd the water temporary are not functioning, but they're maybe not at my place also?
So I write my diary, as fast as I can. I feel way behind already, so many positive things have happend.


The farm has been replaced with a temporary building...   ...and there sits a FOREIGNER!


Then it's time to go for the dinner and we arrive and I meet with Sherry again. I soon remember her and her mediocre english. She just has to warm up a bit, and it's not so bad. I try hard to express myself simple and clearly, but even then it turns out wrong from time to time.
But this dinner party I'll never forget. It's the first time I'm ever inside a real chinese home, and there are a LOT of dishes, I don't know how many. We are served both redwine (Great Wall - so I did taste it in the end - some thin watery stuff) and "Bei zhou" and mr. Boss, as I call the hotel manager, keeps filling our glasses. And we talk. I have the advantage of knowing quite a lot of french and some chinese words and of course english that I speak with Sherry adn Francis and Jeanne. I don't understand chinese but at one moment I realize they're speaking to Sherry and from a few words like: "yingyue" (english) and "laoshi" (teacher) and the tone of their voices, I know they're pressing her to use her skills and opportunities (she's working in a bank now). Her boyfriend is there too, he's employed in the bank too. Not very ingenious maybe?
The food is special, but I'll leave it out here, just mention that the grandfather had to have the head of the rooster - which pleased me a lot!
When the conversation goes smoothly despite age and nationalities it's mainly because of Jeanne who beside chinese and french also speaks english and Francis can translate from french.

A most surprising Dinner party...   ...where english, french and chinese is spoken


So the farm of Sherrys family has disappeared to give room for this new museum. So now the family stays in these temporary houses, which houses ten families in all. Her father will have some kind of compensation/support from the authorities and will have an apartment in one of the new blocks being build. He's 56 years and his basis have been taken away, but he seems to take it the chinese way (it won't help you to complain) He's had an offer he could not (should not) resist.
The wife of Xia Wei is in Chengdu once again. Last time it was to give birth (it was another girl) this time the youngest have been to hospital in Chengdu, but she is now discharged. He's not very talkative on this matter and I don't ask closer questions.
I've got important informations like those about the road. It will be closed for some time on monday. Sunday should be the last chance to escape. In 3-5 days the road reopens, the sources don't agree on this. They will level the road I guess, they cannot give it a hard surface for 50 km in a few days?
I haven't asked for my bike yet. I didn't want to embarass Xia Wei today, but I will ask later. The guards room at the gate where I left it is there still. Now it's just for the middle school in stead. He wouldn't let me in either. It's the guard that's the suspect!