October 20th, 2009
‘Twasn’t much of a weekend, at least not for me. For me, it could’ve been spent more productively. A short translation, sure, but then mostly just hanging out with colleagues or sitting at home alone watching DVDs for as long as my eyes would stay open.
For my wife, on the other hand, the weekend involved getting up close and personal with more apple trees than she would care to remember. Her parents phoned in a panic looking for help getting their apples in, as everybody else in the village had picked theirs, and they couldn’t leave the apples out too long, and maybe somebody would try to steal the apples if they didn’t get on with it. lzh got back to Beijing on Monday morning utterly exhausted and aching all over.
Incidentally, if anybody in or near Beijing is looking to buy a large amount of apples and is willing to drive out to Yanqing County to collect them, leave a comment….
But as gloriously unproductive as my weekend may have been (I was going to spend it marking homework, but decided to change that plan to going over things in class with the students face-to-face- seemed to fit my philosophy for this semester better that way), it was marked by a rather disgusting discovery on our stairway. I won’t go into any detail at all. It wasn’t just the discovery, but the culprit’s (I hope it was the culprit) pathetic and rather late attempt to clean up followed by the even longer delay in (even more hopefully) the culprit removing the remaining detritus, that has left me still trying to shed the last vomitous smears of disgust. I am still careful traversing a certain section of our stairwell- careful as to where I tred and what I think, smell, and see, even though I know it is now cleaned.
This morning on the way to the office to pick up necessities from class I noticed smoke. Well, first off, somebody in the slum over the wall from our estate often burns things in his yard, and the last few days seems to have been rather more active than usual. But I got over to the main campus and turned south and there was a smudge against the grey sky, a smudge that from its texture seemed to be something more local than the background smog haze. Squinting at it, I saw that it was smoke coming from the stack of the central heating plant that last winter apparently produced some “black snow“. No sign of snow, of any colour, of course, I was still to far away for that. But it was encouraging to see. Very soon it will be cold.
And a notice has been posted to say the heating supply will be tested in our neighbourhood on Thursday morning. Another good sign. We’ll be needing that very soon.
The one thing I really do not like about the winter is waking up in darkness. That combined with poor sleep has not helped this week start well. Finally this afternoon a much delayed trip to the tea shop happened. It has been too many days since I woke up with a nice, hot, bitter cup of longjing. Far too many. That limp, mediocre Laoshan green tea I picked up in Qingdao was alright for dumping in my flask to get me through classes, but no good for that early-morning jump-start. Half-rate jasmine tea is just as good for the flask, but even worse for starting the day with.
And so after class I stopped off at the office to talk over a few minor administrative issues, then feeling a little tired and headachy, trundled off to the south gate then along Shuanglong Lu, crossing Xidawang Lu then continuing just a few dozen metres west down Songyu Nan Lu to my local branch of Wuyutai (吴裕泰茶庄).
I love that shop. It’s not just the tea fragrance that surrounds when you step through the door, either. Only once have they not had the tea I requested- and that was a rather obscure request. Oh, sure, I would never expect them to have anything other than Chinese teas, so it’s not like I asked for a Darjeeling or Irish Breakfast. And yes, I have on occasion had to adjust my price range to suit what was available at that point in time. But those are minor issues. They always have what I want at close to, or usually exactly the price I want to pay. And the staff, that’s what makes that place: The staff are superb, friendly, polite and efficient, all of those qualities done almost, but stopping just mercifully short of, a fault. I don’t need to walk so far to buy tea, but I do, every time, and for very good reason. I love that shop.
Then a quick stop in the neighbouring Shouhang supermarket for a couple of breakfast necessities, a stop made extra quick by my awareness of how grumpy I was feeling, then home, but not the direct route straight up Xidawang Lu. I took the opportunity to wander along an almost-but-not-quite-as direct route through a part of town I hadn’t visited for a while.
Nothing had changed. But then again, nothing (apart from the muster of foreign teachers at BeiGongDa) changes in this part of town, not since the new real estate developments along the southern side of Songyu Nan Lu were finished. Out of Shouhang I continued west, those new apartment blocks ahead on the left, then turned right and walked north through the older streets, surrounded by apartment blocks that look to be fifty years old. Narrow streets, narrower footpaths, businesses that, apart from one or two restaurants, haven’t changed at all since I first wandered these lanes back when people were more worried about SARS than swine flu. Established communities, very well established, judging by the how hard it looks to find a parking space in that area. It was good to see everybody out on the street in the afternoon warmth and calmer breeze after Sunday evening’s rapid shuffle through a howling, frigid norwester down a desolate and near-abandoned lane a couple of hundred metres north of there.
Various random vendors worked off a blanket on the side of the footpath or a bicycle or tricycle parked in one of the few gaps on the side of the road. At the Post Office corner a man was pointedly asking a pedicab driver about the sound suspiciously like pedicab scraping (poorly) parked car while the pedicab driver protested, “I’ve been watching my pedicab! You think I’d let it hit your car?!” These dry norwesters must be getting to some people. A dozen metres further a woman’s shrill voice screached out in protest at some other impropriety. Two chengguan (city inspectors? uniformed thugs?) lounged about the bicycle park. Another dozen metres and the footpath became an annex of the local market, one of several markets within an easy walk of home that sells just about everything, with vendors working off blankets spread on the ground, flatbed tricycles, light trucks, the backs of vans, anything that was useful. Autumn’s overflowing abundance.
Then the intersection, a relatively new one, one I remember in it’s muddy, confusing state before that still rather barren extension of Songyu Bei Lu was pushed through to Xidawang Lu. I briefly considered continuing north up the street a former colleague named Stinky- a lane, really, with at its southern entrance a public toilet rebuilt only a year or so ago into something less pungent, but still blessed with a garbage collection station just north of that toilet that continues to produce a foul stench and makes one very careful, through it’s colourful leakage, about where one steps in the summer when one is wearing sandals. It’s not a street that fully deserves its name, despite the still very foul garbage collection station. It’s an odd mix of slum and apartment blocks, the slum being, so far as I can tell, the remnants of the original village converted to urban use. Urban, but not rich. Still, it’s a community that, despite a certain smelly issue at its southern end, that I have always felt comfortable in.
But no, not while I’m carrying groceries. The walls around our complex would render such a detour twice as long as it needed to be, and while I would not normally be averse to that, having done it on many occasion, I was well aware of my grumpiness. And so I opted for the boring, but shorter route, turning right to meet up with our friendly local high-tension power line as it crossed from the northern to the southern side of Songyu Bei Lu before heading out east, bisecting our campus.
And so ends another day. At least I have some decent tea for tomorrow. Tomorrow is, after all, a big day, four straight classes. And a big day in another way, too, something that may need to wait till Thursday for an explanation.