Welcome back! It’s story time!
Mid-week last week I discovered my laptop charger was no longer working and my laptop was already dead (we suspect it died because of the higher electrical voltage in sockets here). Concerned, we made a trip to the shopping district part of town in search of an Apple store. I swore I had seen the light-up Apple emblem on a building somewhere over there so after we finished classes we headed over in search of a charger. Of course, it was 5:40 in the afternoon, so all the old ladies who have decided it’s their job to act as unwanted bike parking attendants outside of buildings kept informing us that the stores close at six (so in their minds, we might as well go ahead and not even park and leave). We found the Apple emblem we were looking for and were pleased with our success in finding an Apple store until we walked in and the first thing we saw was a table full of makeup and salon products. We’d been fooled and instead found ourselves in a shopping mall of sorts that had an “Apple” section. After a bit of translating difficulty, they let us know that they don’t have chargers for sale at the moment (we should have expected that response seeing as no shop seems to actually stock any of their products) but we could order one for at least 400 kuai that would probably be there Sunday. Though we genuinely appreciated how helpful and patient they were, we decided 400 kuai for a charger that may or not work after it may or may not arrive was too much and we headed to QLH to ask for some advice. We ended up finding a charger for 100 kuai instead and, having had success ordering from Taobao before, decided that was the better risk to take. Several impatient days later and the charger for my Macbook arrived last night and we are now reconnected to the world! Of course, I was silly to expect that the charger would actually be an Apple product (it looks exactly like a Mac charger except for the lack of apple and the glaringly obvious “llano” lettering on the side) considering I live in China – the land of duplicates – but it charges and has a plug that can go directly into the wall rather than having to be plugged into an adaptor and then into the wall and it was cheap and hassle-free to get. We’re back in business!
Classes have been going well for the most part. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying interacting with my students again and even all of the eighth grade classes last week were agreeable. I discovered that a good way to teach vocabulary to the kids is to put it into a context that they might deem relevant and interesting and so I taught them vocab (with hand-made flashcards) by telling them about our holiday travels.
This week I found out that all of my students’ favorite game is a word unscramble where I write something like “ceabh” on the board and they have to compete to be the fastest to figure out the word is “beach” or similarly with sentences like “beach play at the I” turns into “I play at the beach”.
Unfortunately, all of our kids have been exceptionally rambunctious this week and that combined with this new found favorite game, has led classes to continually be on the verge of out of control (even with Chinese teachers as assistants). They have not be bad (mainly just loud and energetic) but it has been difficult to deal with at times trying to find the balance between getting them to be quiet while still being enthusiastic about participating.
Up until this afternoon, we both had been baffled as to why the kids have been so crazy this week. Today at lunch, however, we connected all the dots. (Story time again!)
The smog the past week has been unbelievably bad. We speculated that it’s been the worst we’ve ever seen it and the AQI index (I mentioned previously) has proven it once and for all. Today in the news was story after story about the “human inhabitability” of the extremely noxious high AQIs in Beijing (in the 500s) this week. And while that is very, very bad (over 300 is hazardous and over 25 is inadvisable according to the WHO), we can’t shake the fact from our minds that Baoding reached a high of 750 a couple of days ago and it hasn’t been as low as the 500s for about a week now.
Several of the reports have stated:
“Chinese scientists have warned that the country’s toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country’s food supply.” (The Guardian)
“Early this month the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences claimed in a report that Beijing’s pollution made the city almost ‘uninhabitable for human beings’.The Chinese government has repeatedly promised to address the problem, but enforcement remains patchy. In October, Beijing introduced a system of emergency measures if pollution levels remained hazardous for three days in a row, including closing schools, shutting some factories, and restricting the use of government cars.” (The Guardian)
“Li Guixin, a resident of Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, has submitted his complaint to a district court, asking the Shijiazhuang Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to “perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law”, the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said. He is also seeking compensation from the agency for residents for the choking pollution that has engulfed Shijiazhuang, and much of northern China, this winter.” (Haeertz)
“At the LG Twin Towers office building in central Beijing, security guard Zhang Xiaotian, 20, lowered his mask Monday to have a smoke. ‘We have to wear these masks, but isn’t this just fog?’ he asked, repeating a claim that China has told its people for years…Beijing’s Capital Civilization Office, the state agency that tried, and failed, to stop Chinese from their habit of spitting in public before the 2008 Summer Olympics, has launched an information campaign citywide to explain what is ‘smog.’” (USA Today)
Several news articles have mentioned that the country remains in a declared orange level despite the numbers presently in the official red-level category because red level would mandate half the cars off the roads in China (and that would be troublesome in its own right). Interestingly enough, Duncan had a conversation with Li Laoshi early last week about the pollution and she relayed that people are very upset that the pollution has been so bad recently considering the government just implemented a $1.6 billion investment to deal with China’s smog and pollution problems. Apparently, many people thought the changes in air quality would be immediate, rather than a long-term process, and have been particularly upset by the marked worsening of air quality since the investment. This reaction combined with some articles clarifying that the Chinese government has been actively teaching “against” smog and pollution awareness, has made me critically aware of how little environmental knowledge and education there is here (at least from what I can see). I also have to lament the recurring theme of waiting for catastrophe to strike and the seeming absence of pre-catastrophe preventative measures before people seem to get the point about a dangerous situation (but that’s a tangent I probably shouldn’t dive into today).
Duncan and I have speculated that one of the reasons people don’t wear masks is because they can’t spit or smoke with a mask on, but, as we’ve been told, many people also don’t believe that breathing the air is actually a problem. (It seems a bigger concern for some people we’ve talked to is that we change our clothes too frequently.) While we can blend in with the crowds more than usual when we wear masks and are bundled up for winter weather, we also stand out in a different way. Rather than our hair or skin or facial features identifying us as foreign, we are clearly unique because we are concerned enough about our health to be wearing legitimate 3M masks. (This brings me to another point: why are masks not available on every street corner like cigarettes are here?! In order to get masks that actually provide some kind of protection against the smog and not just against larger particulate matter, we have had to order American construction masks off of the Internet through Johnson.)
Somehow, despite the government telling schools to close down because of the smog, we’re still here and teaching our usual schedule. We realized today that the kids haven’t been doing their daily run around the school at 10am (exercise) this week because of the smog and we think that’s the reason for their extra energy. (Keep in mind, these are kids aged 3-15 that are in class all day every day from about 7am – 9pm with only a lunch break and no real play time – they must be going stir crazy without an energy outlet.)
Being in school despite warnings and government mandates, however, has been good and has allowed many pleasant interactions to occur. On Monday, for example, two of my sixth grade boys came up to me and asked me if I had a “man friend”. Assuming they meant to say “boyfriend”, I said yes and began describing Duncan to them, as they would have definitely seen him around campus. They interrupted me to ask me if I have a baby and broke into giggling fits as I said no (I think my specific response had nothing to do with whether or not they giggled). I decided to ask the boy who was doing most of the talking if he had a girlfriend and he promptly responded, “Yes! You!” and ran off giggling with his friend. Apparently I now have a man friend and a (sixth grade) boy friend – how lucky am I! 😛
Also, today, one of my fifth grade girls asked me if I have a Chinese name. I told her “A-Li-Sa” (the way all of my kids say my name; indeed she had just gotten my attention by saying that), but she responded by saying “no, that’s an English name”. I told her that if she doesn’t consider that a Chinese name then, no, I don’t have one. A few minutes later she got my attention again just to say “long hair” so I assume she was trying to give me a Chinese name but couldn’t make something work. Maybe by next week I’ll be “A-li-sa Long-hair” or something like that.
All of our street food people are officially back and we were touched when they remembered us, asked how our trips were, and remembered our usual orders. Amidst the smog and other general frustrations, it seems like it really is the simple things that matter most sometime. (Another simple thing – it sprinkled rain this evening for the first time since September!)
Minus three seventh grade classes tomorrow, I’m done for the week with teaching and plan on spending my free time sleeping and continuing to fight off the cold my body has started trying to develop. After having lived continually sick to some degree the first four months of our time here (I blame the smog again and always), I am absolutely determined to be well this second semester and if that means sleeping and drinking several liters of water a day, then so be it! I will not spend our remaining time in China coughing and sniffling.
If all goes according to plan, we are going to Beijing for the weekend to have a break from Baoding. While all the news sources may be focusing on the capital’s suffocating smog with AQIs in the 500s, we are welcoming a break from the Baoding AQIs in the 600s and 700s if only for a couple of days.
It seems that we have all of our electronics and communication avenues working properly again (for the time being) so we will be spending the next few days catching up and getting reacquainted with the world from abroad.
Pictures from recently will be up on Duncan’s blog and in my next post.
But until then, thank you for reading,