August 31, 2013
Today started out kind of rough. The unfamiliarity of everything, my inability to communicate or read anything, and the daunting task of figuring out how to teach classes of 50 middle school students even though I still don’t have textbooks, a curriculum, or my class schedule is all very overwhelming.
We ended up going out in the morning and saw some more of Baoding that made us realize we really are in a city its just that our school is on the outskirts of town and surrounded by farming which is why we were feeling so isolated. We tried to buy sim cards for our phones and print off more passport photos but neither was successful and will have to be attempted again today. We still don’t have our tickets for the high-speed rail tomorrow. Everything I had been warned about the foreign teachers being left out of the communication loop seems to be true, though it is not as bad as I was expecting.
When Ms. Ruth, our Chinese assistant, told us she was going to take us to the supermarket to buy food I was expecting a convenience store/farmers market type place. She led us to a giant square called Military School Park that is very pretty and relaxing. A lot of families were hanging out with their children and couples were relaxing in the shade while older people walked about. And then, Ruth pointed out a big set of stairs leading down, into the ground and told us that’s the supermarket. Not really sure what to expect, we walk down the stairs and find ourselves into what can only be described as a Super Super Walmart. There’s a whole grocery store down there and department stores and jewelry stores and home décor stores! I seriously doubt that you could want something and not find it down in the “supermarket”. Because we were rushing to get back to the school to meet with our waiban (Foreign Affairs Office person in charge of making sure we’re legal and comfortable), Ms. Li, we didn’t browse long and only bought some baozi (steamed dumplings filled with deliciousness), grapes (putao), and some American type food to eat in our room.
When we returned to the school, we walked around the campus and discovered some basketball courts, a huge soccer field, and a whole bunch of ping-pong tables. There are many dormitories, all separated by gender and age, to house the 2000 students that attend this school.
We found Ms. Li and got some more questions answered before the male English teacher from last year arrived with his younger brother who will be attending our school this year. We all sat and chatted about China and living and working in Baoding for a good while which helped us feel better. Tomorrow we are going to get dinner with them and some other American teachers living in Baoding and working at the universities and I am very excited to talk to them about their experiences and pick their brains for advice.
So the day was having some slight ups and drastic downs when I got an email from Enkui, a Chinese man living in Baoding. His daughter, coincidentally, is attending the high school I graduated from in Texas this year as an exchange student and we have been emailing back and forth awaiting my arrival in Baoding. Enkui excitedly emailed me saying he and his wife had bought us groceries and wanted to find us so they could give them to us and meet us.
Struck by the kindness from a complete stranger, Duncan and I wandered back over to the Military Square Park hoping to meet up with him there. We found a coffee shop that served real coffee and delicious ice cream and had fast Wifi and our moods were beginning to pick up. The park at this point was buzzing with life as babies haltingly walked around, children were roller-skating, teens were dancing and playing music, couples were sitting quietly by themselves, and older people were serenely walking around. (I swear, one man looked just like my dad by the clothes he was wearing, the way he was standing, and the way he was just quietly observing everything :P) We stayed there for a while but right as we were beginning to walk away, a very happy woman came up to us, pointed at me, and said, “Alyssa?” When we said yes she got super excited, showed us the grocery big she was carrying and started motioning to a man across the square we couldn’t see. Enkui showed up and talked to us in better English than he realizes and we all stood trying to communicate with each other through broken English and Chinese and with the help of Chinese-English dictionaries on our phones until we understood that they were waiting for their niece to show up because she studies English in University and would be able to translate for us all. Duncan and I were content waiting in the park when all of the sudden Enkui said “we know lots of good restaurants around here”. I said that’s great assuming he was just going to point them out to us but instead he meant he was going to take us out to dinner. Feeling a little undeserving of such kindness, we obliged anyway and followed Enkui and his wife down the street.
Enkui’s wife, who speaks less English than I do Chinese, was very happy to meet me and linked arms with me as we walked down the street. We stopped at the biggest, fanciest restaurant I’ve ever seen. This place is like a 6 story restaurant with full sized aquarium tanks on the bottom floor filled with gigantic fish and turtles bigger than me! We were taken into a private room for the four of us and we waited for their niece to arrive.
The rest of the evening was filled with huge amounts of delicious food and broken conversation that was absolutely wonderful. Like most Chinese people, Titanic and Gone with the Wind are Enkui’s favorite movies and they enjoy watching Hollywood Sci-fi. They told us they want to take us Beijng sometime and see the summer palace and Enkui wants to play badminton with me and Duncan at some point. His wife wants to take me shopping sometime.
At the end of the evening, they hailed us a cab and Enkui went with us back to the school so we wouldn’t have to walk at night. We told them we would see each other again soon and thanked them profusely even though it was not enough. The hospitality and kindness they showed us completely turned Duncan and my moods upside down and we began to feel re-inspired about our time here in Baoding and hopeful for the next year. We genuinely cannot express our gratitude to Enkui and his family for their welcoming embrace into Baoding, Hebei Province, and China.