Thursday, June 29, 2006

sino journal seven: return to kunming

Saturday June 17th. I hung out with a South Asian brother who is in Kunming to study Chinese. We were to go to a Muslim English Corner at the local mosque. However, with final examination time at the local universities, it was cancelled. We went on a p-walk at a couple of nearby campuses. I saw where a revival is going to break out. My partner said that the place I saw is where the local English Corner is held.

Later that morning I “taught” at a private English school that meets on Saturdays. (You can see the students here.) The class of eight-to-twelve-year olds was scheduled for two hours but I could not last an hour. They were great kids but I ran out of energy before they did. Fortunately, their regular teacher, a young American student studying Chinese, was there to bail me out. I showed them pictures of my family. The girls were all excited about pictures from last summer’s wedding last the two boys started playing by themselves.

They asked me to teach a section of adults that afternoon. However, no one showed because students were busy preparing for or taking university exams.

I was taken to lunch at a restaurant that I would not have chosen. Later that evening at the English corner at a teahouse, I became violently ill with both ends of my GI-track being quite explosive. Trying to be cool about it so few would know what was happening; I continually had to excuse myself from a conversation.

Sunday June 18th. Imodium is a wonderful thing.

I was able to share with a fellowship of maybe ten university students in the morning. Most of my message went over their heads but I had a good example, a word picture, they could relate to. I find most Chinese cannot understand my English. I use words they do not know while more experienced Westerners would know the right word that they would likely know. Chinese is also a tonal language where one of four tones used changes the meaning of a word. For example, ma can mean mother, horse, or scolding depending on how you say it. I think that if I use a different inflection with a word than what they are used to, their natural mindset is that it is a different word even though it is not different in English.

I rested in the afternoon. That evening I met with a Southeast Asian businessperson. She took me to a Western-style doughnut shop where I had English milk-tea with sugar: Just what I needed given the delicate condition of my GI-track.

This woman is into many different things. One thing she does is help local trash pickers. These are kids of folks from the countryside that migrate illegally to the city to pick trough trash to “recycle.” Since the children are not registered to be in the city, they are ineligible for schooling or any other government help. The Chinese view such charitable efforts as the responsibility of the government. However, this woman must be discrete about helping the poor so as not to cause the government to lose face. That is, if she helps then it shows the government is not doing its job and there would be a loss of face. No one does that with impunity, especially a foreigner who wants to stay in country.

A peasant in the rural area earns maybe 500 rmb per year. In the city, a trash picker can make more than 1,000 rmb per month. It makes you wonder why there is anyone left in the country. Illegal immigration to the city has become a huge “problem.” The construction boom relies on illegal immigrants as do a lot of the restaurants and other low-wage service industries. It used to be that officials would catch an immigrant and just put him on a train back to his hometown. Now there are far too many to cope with and any enforcement seems futile if not impossible. (Hmm…, doesn’t this sound familiar?)

Monday June 19th. Today I mostly hung out with a local American businessman/consultant. In the afternoon, I visited a local development on the outskirts of town, Sunshine City. When completed it will be home to about 7,000 middle to upper middle income Chinese. I went with a local who is in the process of buying a flat (i.e., apartment). Flats are sold unfinished, bare, rough concrete walls, floors, and ceilings. These flats sell for $20,000 to $30,000 depending on size and location. Good investment property with a new medical college and university branch campuses being built nearby.

Tuesday June 20th. My American friend spent the day trying to renew his visa and it took him all day. This was fine with me since I was feeling quite tired and thought I should just rest. I did drop some dirty clothes off at a laundry expecting it to ready late afternoon, all nicely ironed – even my underwear. However, when I took it back to my hotel in the evening I discovered it was not only not ironed, but also quite damp. I was of course quite indignant. However, these were good people, brothers, recommended to me, and I soon figured out it was the result of miscommunication.

In fact, it was also all my fault.

The family did not speak English and looking back at the events of the morning, I realized the young girl who took my laundry was pointing at a calendar trying to tell me to pick it up the next day. However, I did not get it at the time. She also compounded the error by making the dangerous assumption that I wasn’t stupid. I tried to communicate that I wanted it by 6 p.m. by writing “18:00” down on a piece of paper and pointing to my watch. I think she understood that but probably assumed that since I was not stupid, I must have meant 6 p.m. the next day. Therefore, when I came back that same evening she quickly went into a back room, folded up my damp clothes, and put them in a bag so as not to disappoint me. She also charged me much less than I expected. I wonder why? Duhhh!

It all worked out. I hung the damp clothes in my hotel room’s bath. They were dry by morning with no harm done.

Wednesday June 21st. Today a group of us went to visit a Hui village a few hours from Kunming. The Hui (pronounced way) are a minority group that are basically Han Chinese but Muslim. The Han Chinese majority looks them down upon and even Christian Han want nothing to do with the Hui. Of course, the Muslims of are resentful of all this. We were going to a village that is the hometown of a Hui man in our group. He is interested in studying the Bible and bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims.

On the way to and from the village, we traveled on very good highways and we saw prosperous farms growing vegetables, tobacco, and flowers. Much of the farming seemed to take place under what looked like Quonset huts made of plastic sheeting. The road we were on supposedly went all the way to Singapore, and vegetables are shipped there. (Although, I understand the part of the road through Laos is a bit sketchy.)

The village was actually more like a small city and was about 80% Hui. It is also home to a recently built, and currently the largest, mosque in China. There is also a large 400-to-500 year-old mosque, ornately decorated in a very Chinese fashion.

The imam was unavailable but a teacher-scholar gave us a tour to the village and mosques. We then had a very lengthy and good discussion. The teacher-scholar basically asked me, the oldest, to give my testimony. Others did so as well. The teacher also shared how he came to be a follower and scholar of Islam. It was very nice to have a frank, open, and still pleasant conversation.

A Muslim teacher also asked why Bush was reelected. Muslims just cannot fathom how or why that happened. I explained that U.S. voters, like most voters around the world are primarily interested in domestic not foreign issues. Another American noted that Bush was different from his opponent in that Bush, like Muslims, is opposed to abortion.

Later that evening I went to another English corner then stayed up late to catch up on my emails.

Be blessed!
RB

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