Hello my dear friends:
As I sit down to write my first reflection, I have been in China almost two days. So much goodness has happened in the last 48 hours that I have been sitting here for the last ten minutes at a loss how to begin. I will start by saying that my knee is bloody, my muscles ache, and I can’t remember the last time I felt this passionately resolute (does that count as inspired?) in the confirmations that I am on exactly the right path (except for maybe three hours last night.)
So I flew from Vancouver at 3am to Beijing, arrived at 5am and was thanked for my cooperation during the flight. I forgot to fill out an entry card, and came to realize that my initial fear of an imposing palisade at customs was misplaced; I am very welcome in China. The train that brought me to the other terminal at Beijing airport is disinfected regularly, in case you were wondering. At the security checkpoint right before my gate to fly to Shanghai, three people budged in front of me and just plunged through the metal detector, I think it seemed strange to them that I was just standing there. One thing I began to notice is that while the people doing their jobs (i.e. security personnel, customs inspectors, salespersons) are still effective, and know what they are doing, there is far less of a ‘role’ they step into for their specific type of work. Everyone seems to be much more just a person, and there is a real warmness to the kind of environment where everyone can just be the same person they are at home.
When I arrived in Shanghai, a man helped me buy a ticket for the train to Nanjing without my even asking him for help. I have never experienced a groundspeed of 300Km/h before, and it wasn’t what I would have expected. Things are still easy to see as they go by, it just has the effect of making the distances seem smaller (picture finding a spot on the distant horizon, and then reaching that point in 20 seconds.)
At 12:30pm I arrived at the Nanjing Railway Station. Upon arrival (and at every station before that) the automated intercom voice thanked me on behalf of the entire crew on the train for my cooperation during the trip. At the exit there were about 10 women all selling maps, and it was a really good (and cheap) purchase. What a magical afternoon. I was carrying my double trumpet case on my back, my knapsack on my front, and pulling my suitcase, and I just slowly strolled down through this gorgeous park into the city for about 2 hours. I stopped and asked some young people to borrow their cell phone to call my room mate, and set up a time to meet to get the keys, and they were really giggling, and asked to take a picture, and as I was asking about the phone, all these construction workers just gathered around to see what was going on… people are so sweet here. A few minutes further down, a family of four chased after me (I wasn’t going that fast) and took their picture with me, asking where I was from and thanking me. I exited the park and meandered around through the streets, and got my first glimpse of how traffic works here. Picture a mall, you have people standing outside shops and slowly moving around them, and then further into the center of the halls people are walking faster. Now give people cars and scooters and bicycles. The traffic lights are polite suggestions, and horns are used almost the same way we use headlights. I stopped in at a China Telecom office building to ask about cell providers, and the security guard got up, told me to wait, and left his post, walking to the building next door. I walked out after him, and he was standing with this girl (his daughter I think) pointing at me and asking her the same question over and over. She was grinning. Again, sweet people. At the same time, a couple was walking by and asked me in perfect english (with a london accent) if they could be of any help. I let them know that I’d be meeting my friend but wasn’t so confident I knew where it was. They hailed a cab for me and told him exactly where to take me. Sweet people. My first meal in Nanjing was a McDonald’s cheeseburger with fries and a Pepsi.
I met my room mate in the McDonald’s, and we walked back to the apartment. The building has six floors, and we are on the seventh floor, which was added only onto our part of the building by our landlord recently. The door is 5 feet tall. The place has everything, washer, shower, cooktop, sink, fridge, freezer, even counter space. I love my room, it backs onto a balcony for drying clothes and hanging out, and that wall is all windows. I can hear Nanjing all night long.
Last night after meeting my room mate, I prudently marked my map where the house (purportedly) was according to google maps (mistake). I went out and explored around to find a SIM card and cell phone, but found that the SIM card providers were all closed. I also found that when there is no sun, everything looks different, and it is harder to intuit east-west from north-south. Regardless, I taught orienteering, and I know how to use a map, which is why my patience was really being tested last night! I was relieved to find out that where I had marked the map is where I repeatedly managed to get to, only to conclude that I must have made a mistake and doubt myself. After 2 hours of walking in the same circle, I decided to go into a store where I saw people playing online games. I paid 10 yuan (1.50CAD) to sit down at a computer and access google maps (remember at this point I hadn’t realized that my map was the problem,) and then the guy helping me, who spoke a little english saw that I just wanted to go home, and so he gave me my money back, and left the store to show me how to get home. After 45 minutes of confused wandering we both caved and he called my room mate. After talking to her, he said “your map is wrong” and then he said “I feel very sad that I can not help you” and he took me to a KFC and then my room mate showed up and we walked back. Today I promised her I wouldn’t make her come get me again. She was very understanding. (Map is definitely corrected)
Today I woke up naturally at 8:11am after sleeping 10 hours. I took some time to organize my room, and then set out to get a cell phone. I got some practice speaking (stumbling around for words) about SIM cards and plans close to my apartment at some mobile outlets, but nobody provided service. I then bought a token for the subway, but couldn’t figure out where to put it, and there was a line, and I was just going one stop, so I just walked to one of the main market areas. Before reaching the department store I had some curried eel, which was awesome. The store has seven floors, and the mobile phones are sold on the seventh floor. I found a lenovo knockoff for 400 yuan ($60.) I wasn’t sure where to get a SIM card, but I noticed a music store on the sixth floor and bought a music stand. The owner spoke a bit of english, and I gave him my email and he told me if he knows of any students wanting to learn trumpet, we would direct them to me. I took a different set of escalators down and on the ground floor a woman gave me a sample of jasmine tea. I asked her if she knew where to get a SIM card, and she escorted me 14 steps around the escalator to a China Mobile booth. I managed to flush out what the plan I was getting entailed by drawing pictures and math equations. It works out to the equivalent of $2.70 CAD/month, plus 3 cents CAD/minute.
I was finally able to call my friend Nima, a Baha’i living here, and the brother of my friend Nadim in Toronto. Nima immediately invited me to come and play basketball tonight with him and some other expats. I quickly found a pair of sneakers and met him at Guangzhou Lu and Qingdao Lu. Man, that was some intense basketball! I will be sleeping well tonight. After, we went to Ellen’s, a western style bar near the university for expats, and 4 other Baha’is dropped what they were doing to come and meet me. before they arrived I noticed a flyer looking for jazz musicians, this guy Rob, who I think I connected with over email before coming is looking to jam with other musicians. Nima then mentioned that there is jazz in a cigar lounge on the 78th floor of this really tall skyscraper. What incredibly awesome people I have been connected with here. Tomorrow night I’m going to Nima’s for Ridvan dinner with them as well, and then Thursday I’m venturing to Xian Lin to meet another Baha’i contact for some prayers, and then we are going out for All-You-Can-Eat Brazilian BBQ. Tomorrow I will try practicing trumpet in the late morning and see how well it goes (i.e. if anyone complains)… Much love to you all! …Oh yeah and the bloody knee was from the basketball, nothing serious, I just wanted to get your attention.