Friday, August 16, 2013

Kay and Zephaniah in China

Dr. Kay Siebler, Director of Composition, and son Zephania (boy genius) are visiting Xidian University as part of our faculty exchange agreement. Kay will teach English there for this academic year. Below is the first of a series of blog entries by Kay. 

First Solo Outing
Heat index = 105 degrees F. This is the day Z and I venture out on our own for the first time to take a Xian city bus to the Old City Wall where one can rent a tandem bicycle and pedal around the top of the wall (13.75 km to bike the four sides). Peddling lazily on the ancient bricks of the wall, high over the Old City on the right and the newer part of the city on the left, we sang heartily, “Daisy, Daisy. Give me your answer do . . . On a bicycle built for twooooo.” Gliding past the bird’s eye view of city center houses, pagodas, markets, and green spaces, we were exhilarated, despite the heat.
Zephaniah biking in the heat
Sweating mightily through every article of clothing we were wearing, we stopped at different places along the top of the wall to sit in the shade of the corner towers, eat ice cream from the carts, or drink water. Z is a minor league rock star wherever we go: “Look at his blue eyes! Look at his blue eyes!” and the minute he finds himself stationary in a throng of people, cameras come out, adults and children are positioned next to him, and photos are taken by smiling, nodding Chinese.
Regardless of the heat, it was wonderful getting away and seeing some tourist sights today. We have been settling in (buying housewares and food for the apartment, straightening out banking, going to various open markets with Chinese friends who want to show us around, getting photos for official documents) and meeting people/colleagues at Xidian University. Two of my Chinese colleagues, Juan Wang and Tian Tian Zho, have been absolutely wonderful in making our arrival and adjustment extremely easy. But today we were flying solo: finding the bus stop, waiting for the right bus, getting off at the right stop, finding the entrance to the wall, renting the bikes, eating lunch in a restaurant, finding the bus stop to go back home . . . it all felt like a grand adventure and so very much fun. Z was a bit skeptical: “Are you sure this is the right bus? Are you sure we are going the right way? How do you know? Where do we go now?”

Tian Tian was a Fulbright scholar here in 2011-12

Juan was our first exchange professor from Xidian in 2012-13
Thus far, the rhythm of our days is defined by a 6 a.m. run (for me) around the inner wall of the campus (tall trees and lots of other people walking and playing sports – a lovely respite from the cities 6 million people) and then going back to the apartment to get Z so we can go out again (for me joining whichever Tai Chi group seems to be going slow and for Z watching the various Tai Chi groups – he loves the sword Tai Chi – or striking up conversations with whoever cares to engage with a 9-year-old American boy). Each day, to this point, has revolved around an outing to square away logistics of living in China. A couple days ago I had to go to a government office for a physical exam in order to get my international resident card. Hundreds of people, mostly Chinese students planning on studying or working internationally and having to get a health exam for the government, were being shepherded through seven different “stations”: blood draw, pee in a cup, EKG, ultra sound, ENT, Xray, blood pressure. It was the most thorough physical exam I can ever remember experiencing. I was the only non-Chinese that I could see. Both the EKG tech and the blood pressure woman were independently alarmed at my low pulse/heart rate/blood pressure. I assured them it was hereditary (my mother also barely has a pulse) and also I run long distances every day. We will see whether they send me back home for being among the walking dead.

We have already found the best place to get popsicles (mango) and tofu (a small restaurant right outside the campus’ south gate). All the necessities are within walking distance (10 blocks or less) and Z has a hand-me-down unicycle with training wheels contraption from his Chinese buddy, Simon, so he often uses that. Simon is a wonderful friend. They get together to play every day (so far), Simon living a couple blocks away also on campus. Simon has introduced Z to lots of other friends and has taught Z how to play Chinese chess, and Z is thrilled to apply his love of Chess to a new venue.

Cohorts in Crime: Simon and Zeph
Yesterday was the Chinese Valentine’s Day and we were at the flower/plant/fish market with Juan, Simon and Leo when a t.v. news crew approached me and asked me if they could interview Zephaniah . . . did he speak any Chinese? Z said he was “too shy” to be interviewed, so I muddled through describing the differences between American Valentine’s Day and Chinese Valentine’s Day. Z and Simon ended the interview by smiling and saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” in Chinese.
Chinese television debut: check.

No segue: Many young women hear carry parasols to keep the sun off their skin. The parasols are lovely pastel colors and are trimmed in ornate embroidery and sometimes sequins. Z immediately wanted one. He chose a Serat-esque lavender one with scallops and sequins. “Dear Uncle Duane, With the $20 you gave me for my birthday, I exchanged it for 80 yuan and got a parasol, a Chinese chess set, and leather-bound writing pad. Love –Z.”

Yesterday I saw a butch-looking older woman riding a motor scooter wearing a red t-shirt that said, in English, “I am SO Sexy!” 

I am finding that everyone here is so kind and friendly and eager to help, even with my very poor language skills. The kind and friendly people are making our transition extremely easy and the mix of ancient culture butting up against contemporary life make China a fascinating and welcoming place.

What are you curious about? What do you want to know?

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