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May 2005

Spring has finally arrived in Dalian. Most of the trees have bright green foliage, red and yellow flowers have been planted in the parks, and the days are in the mid 60s to 70s. With the warmer weather, we try to take more walks and explore different parts of the city. We spend our days teaching, reading, surfing the internet, watching copious amounts of pirated DVDs and walking around. We still don’t speak much Chinese and get by with gestures and a few words, although we continue to learn a lot about the culture and personality of the country through our adult classes. In general, our life here is pretty routine and carefree. So what I’m really saying is: I don’t have much to write an e-mail about. Nevertheless, I’ve scraped together a few stories to provide you with your weekly dose of life in China.

Rain & Sewage
When it rains in Dalian, the city feels empty. The sidewalks are void of fruit sellers and stalls, the buses are spacious, and our classes have a few less kids. And when it rains too much, the sewer manhole cover that is conveniently located two-thirds of the way up the steps to our apartment building overflows.  This has happened several times since we’ve lived here, and, since it rained heavily two days ago, it is still happening at the very moment that I am writing this. A waterfall of liquid muck cascades down the very steps we must walk up to reach our building. The other residents who use the steps try to divert the river to one side of the steps by putting various objects on the steps like rocks, dirt, weeds, sticks, glass bottles and a red sweater. Whenever the sewer stops overflowing, the objects remain and the stench hovers.

Falun Gong
One day while we were walking to our trolley stop, one of the fruit sellers on our street ran up to Zac and put a piece of paper in his pocket. It had a few sentences written on it in Chinese. We took it to one of our friends to translate, and it turned out the guy was trying to tell us about Falun Gong. As you may know, Falun Gong is a slightly odd religion that has been banned in China. (I can’t look it up on the internet to give you more details because all of the sites about it are censored in China and therefore blocked). I don’t know much about it, but our friend, Candy, said that they convince people to cut out their stomachs and kill themselves in a cult-like fashion.  Again, I can’t verify this because I can’t search for it on the internet. About a week later, the man gave Zac another piece of paper with more proselytizing on it (in Chinese). Seeing as how all of this had no effect on us, one day the man gave Zac a tape player and several tapes, all in Chinese. I’m not sure what he expects from us, exactly. At any rate, we’re not cutting out our stomachs any time soon.

The restaurant at the bottom of the stairs
We’ve nearly given up on cooking and instead eat at restaurants a lot because it is cheap and the food is good. In the beginning, eating out was quite impossible because we couldn’t read the menu.  However, we soon realized that most restaurants offered the same foods so now we have our own menu, written in both Chinese and English, that we always carry with us. When we go to a restaurant, we point at the dish we’d like on our menu, and they usually have it. We also figured out the key to a good cheap restaurant is to go to the small ones (no more than six tables). There are lots of these tiny family-owned restaurants in our neighborhood, and we tried a couple of them before we finally tried the one that was right at the bottom of our sewer steps. When we finally went in there, after walking by it for two months, the lady didn’t smile at us. Perhaps we insulted her by walking right by everyday. She indicated that she knew we lived nearby by gesturing to us, then our apartment building, then making a motion for sleeping. We nodded vigorously and apologetically. But the cook smiled at us, and he is the important one. She gives us rice and tea, but he gives us platters of delicious food. For Y24 (less than $3) we get a pot of tea (that tastes like coffee), two bowls of rice, a platter of spicy diced chicken with peanut, and a vegetable platter. It is enough to feed both of us for two meals, so we always take half of it home. One time, we ordered spinach with garlic. As we were waiting and looking out the windows, I noticed the lady come out of the next door vegetable shop with a freshly bought bag of spinach. “Look Zac, she just bought our supper.” Within a few minutes, the spinach was on a steamy platter in front of us. Dalian China

Our hill
Behind our apartment, there is a hill with a sidewalk on top. For exercise and to enjoy the view, we occasionally walk to the top. We can see the whole city from our hill, plus the ocean to the south and north. There are usually many other people on the hill as well. One time, a group of people with a digital video camera videotaped us, then videotaped them talking to us, then had Zac videotape them.

Don’t tell Sera!
In my adult class, our topic was dilemmas. I gave each group a dilemma they had to solve. Robert’s solution involved bribing a government official because “they are poor but powerful, so they are very good to bribe.” Immediately, the rest of the class yelled at him, “Don’t tell Sera that! You cannot tell foreigners bad things about us!” They continuously try to protect the image of China and will avoid any bad news about China. Another example is that one day we were discussing SARS and Kelly complained about the health official who kept it secret, then resigned when it came out, only to be appointed to another high position in a different government department. Then too, the class was horrified that she would say bad things to a foreigner. I said it was OK, the same thing happens in the U.S. all the time. “Really? Ok, then we don’t feel so bad.” It’s quite strange how sensitive they are. But this time, about the bribery, Michelle piped up, “Yes, but I think it is a part of development to admit the bad things.” The class pondered this for a while, but in the end seemed to agree.

Construction and destruction
Ever since the weather started to warm up, Dalian has turned into a construction zone, especially near our school. The sidewalks have been torn up for weeks, and they appear to have put two additional traffic lanes where the sidewalks used to be. Watching the construction process is painful because they seem to keep making mistakes. We will go to school and a new sidewalk will be laid down. When we get out of school, it has been all torn up. The next day they are doing something different. This particularly bothers Zac.

Today was a beautiful day. We took a walk along the road that winds through the hills next to the ocean. On our way back, we went near the amusement park, where some girl took our picture with her sister. In Xinghai square, a tour guide with a megaphone and a flag was telling her group about the significance of the concrete footsteps. Closer to the ocean, a guy driving a remote control motorcycle ran it into my leg. We continued to the beach where we read our books and watched a group of three trying to cook on the beach. Their leader wore a red apron and he ran around the beach trying to collect something to make a fire. We were there for more than an hour and they still didn’t seem to have a fire. We also enjoyed the improved view now that the SS Oriana, Dalian’s most famous eyesore, has finally been towed away. The ship used to be a famous cruise ship, which was then turned into an on-board amusement park, but keeled over during a gale and hasn’t been quite the same since.

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