Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In spite of the fact that I am teaching 14+ classes every week, I don’t have any classes on Tuesdays, at least not this week and not at the middle school. I think I will have one class at the high school next Tuesday afternoon, but today I have the day off—and I just started yesterday! It’s actually nice to have the day off, so I can rest some more. I can tell that I’m still not fully recovered from the illness I got last Friday (which turned out to be some kind of respiratory infection), but I am doing much better and I’m sure I’ll be at 100% in a couple of days.
I wish I could tell you that I slept in on my day off, but sleeping in would be difficult considering I can’t stay up past 10pm because I’m so exhausted—a combination of jet lag and being sick I’m sure. So, I took some time today to do a little shopping, a little wandering, and a to study some Chinese. I especially enjoy meandering through the street markets. They are kind of like farmer’s markets, swap meets, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers all wrapped into one noisy, colorful strip. On the street I saw a man mending pots, a woman giving pedicures, groups of men playing cards for money and others playing Chinese chess, men selling birds in cages, people selling goldfish out of open plastic containers, and all kinds of other great things; the streets are pretty much constantly full of people. There seems to be a lull in traffic (foot traffic as well as bikes and cars) between 12 and 2—I think a lot of people are napping after lunch during this time—but other than that there is a steady stream of people coming and going everywhere. I really like this part of Chinese culture. There is an element of people connecting with people almost everywhere you look. I think this is partly because most people are not shut off from each other in their cars as the go about their lives; they are brushing past each other with their feet on the same pavement and they are breathing the same air. Back home this sort of thing does happen, but mostly at shopping malls or during big celebrations, like town fairs and carnivals or Fourth of July parades. Here it is happening every day, even during the winter, according to Nicole, because people still need to get around, and bikes and feet are their only means of doing so.
When I was living in Venezuela I encountered a similar cultural phenomenon, though there are not so many bicycles there, motorcycles abound, and people get around either on foot or using public transportation. Also, there seemed to be a time of day, right around dusk, when everyone would come outside and go for a walk around their neighborhood. The timing may be due to the cooling of the air as the sun sets, but the result is a feeling of community and connection that I really love. On one particular evening stroll, a Venezuelan man told me that his friend had moved to the US and that he reported that no one goes out on the street after 5pm. Both the man and his friend were shocked by this news. Just the other day here in Handan someone told me a similar story. She said that she had witnessed that very thing when she visited the US; she too was shocked that no one went out to walk around. I find it fascinating how the cultures of Venezuela and China seem so similar sometimes, especially in terms of how they are not like the United States. Again, my thoughts turn to the international students at Bryant, who very likely come from countries with this type of directly interconnected culture. Inserting oneself into an American university where this is conspicuously absent could make for a difficult, and even lonely, transition.