Sunday, June 15, 2008

My First Trip To China

Summer 2000

During my first fifteen hour nonstop flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong I felt as though I was a child again. A child that has been cooped up in a confined space for too long. Had I been able to converse with the pilot, he would have found some place to stopover. I am certain he would have found a place to drop me off. "Are we there yet?" was the line that continuously rang in my head after the first nine hours. Finally, after two or three airline meals, two or three snacks, some restless naps, drinking about a half gallon of water, visiting all the various bathrooms for a change in scenery and additional exercise, thinking through the redesigning of those bathrooms, redesigning the seat I was sitting in, reading the magazines I brought for myself, reading the magazines I brought with me for Tim, and watching bits and pieces of four movies, I caught my first breathtaking glimpse of Hong Kong through the fog and mist. It was about six in the evening and early evening light gave it the perfect ‘first time to the orient’, mysterious, exotic feel. The landscape felt very large and peaceful, although now in retrospect this may have just been in contrast to my state of mind and body.

The mountains around Hong Kong are lush and dense with tropical trees and plants, and free of buildings. The city is nestled at the base of these beautiful lush green steep slopes on the South China Sea. The city is dense with buildings, but you can also see a lot of green throughout the city. From the air it doesn't have the look of the large city that it is with all this green and also Hong Kong is not as highly illuminated as most big US cities. This gives it a very fairy-like feeling. The airport is vast with some of the largest indoor spaces I have ever seen. I was in awe as I contemplated the large groups of people that move through this space.

Bleary eyed and wobbly legged, I reconnected with my body during a good ten minute walk. I ended up in a large basement area where guards directed me onto a subway car that, in my opinion, looked packed. I hesitated, but as people saw me everyone shifted this way and that, and within a couple seconds there was just enough room for my suitcase and me. The doors closed behind me brushing the seat of my pants and this was my gentle initiation into travel in Hong Kong.

The many narrow streets and sidewalks give Hong Kong a small town and more intimate feel. Parts of it are similar to Chinatown in San Francisco. A lot of the shops are small and crowded right up next to the walkway. Sometimes pedestrians have to step around their wares that spill out onto the sidewalk area. Some shops are just little cubbies that are only eight or twelve feet wide and the variety of shops is mind boggling. That first night I felt like I was a visual sponge. I instantly went into a pleasant sensory overload while Tim held my hand and navigated through the crowds. A shop of teas in beautiful rows of jars all labeled in Chinese characters was next to the 7-11 Convenient store, which was next to a shoe store, which had GREAT shoes but the salespeople just looked at my size ten feet and could only say "whaahh" under their breath. Next to that was a restaurant with its roasted meats of the day hanging in the windows, which was next to a beautiful produce stand. It went on and on and on. People seemed to mill about not in any real organized fashion, so we just walked along where we could -- sometimes on the left side, sometimes on the right side, and sometimes down the middle.

Their sense of space is very different from ours and to brush against others is no big deal. I enjoyed watching these friendly people walking along holding hands or with arms around each other’s shoulders. The clothing for the most part is quite chic and 90% of the woman wear platform shoes that elevate them at least 4". Even with these shoes, most of the women didn't reach my shoulder. Tim and I look like giants among the crowd and when we got separated it was easy to locate each other as we towered above the rest of the crowd. Inside our hotel the feeling was more intimate than in most US hotels. Ti pointed out that the scale was just a bit smaller than American standards. The ceilings were 8-10" lower and the rooms were smaller. There is a nice amount of attention given to details though and we both appreciated the overall result. Wood was used for trim but ceramic tile and granite was used for much of the wall and floor area which is a good choice in a moist tropical area. I was thrilled to be in a large city with mountains and the sea.

The next morning we saw a bit more of this beautiful city and then boarded a ferry to go to the mainland. The boat took us by many interesting looking islands with traditional and contemporary structures on them and finally under an enormous suspension bridge that connects parts of the mainland with each other across the Pearl River estuary. After a fifteen minute taxi ride, we arrived in Dong Chong Village and I found myself speechless. Mainland China was completely different from Hong Kong.

Dong Chong Village is on a delta that is for the most part, as flat as a board. There are many canals that connect to the sea and provide water for irrigation and travel for the many local fishing boats. There are many little restaurants, open air markets, and thousands of people on bicycles. There is a wealth of agricultural activity here. Being in the tropics they have three crops of rice a year and every vegetable and fruit you can imagine is grown here. The small gardens are beautifully laid out. Many interesting lattice patterns are used to train vine crops up off the ground. My sense is that the land is still being worked in much the same way it has been for many years. There is also a growing wealth of manufacturing in the area and people from all over China come here to work. Most live in large dormitory type buildings to save money that they send home to family. It is a developing country in a true sense of the word. It has an active, hopeful feeling that is inspiring. As we dropped off our bags at home, I met two Chinese women that help out with cooking and laundry. Their bright faces, laughter and bits of English were a warm welcome. Then Tim and I went to the factory and person after person greeted me as if I was a good friend and I began to feel more and more at home. I began to see the real wealth of China -- the Chinese people.

Our Chinese Home

Summer 2000

Tim did a great job picking out our apartment in China. It is too small by most Chinese standards it seems, but as we don't have much here, it is fine and an easy space to clean. I like the parquet and granite floors, the windows are large and off the living room we have sliding glass doors that lead out to a little balcony. The view from the balcony always makes me smile. There is quite a large courtyard and down at our end is a large formal pool that has a two tiered fountain in the center. The two tiers are being gracefully held up by a group of full figured, mostly naked, classic Greek-ish, female statues. All the gardens are very formal around in this courtyard, but there are so many styles it can make you dizzy. Throughout the development there must be at least a dozen different themes, from our fountain to some graceful classical Chinese goddess sort of figures, to a western looking man in military gear on a rearing horse, to several large fish that spurt water in a fountain. One of the things I really like about the Chinese and their style is their exuberance! It is a totally charming and entertaining combination of restraint and total free-for-all!

Back in the apartment, our kitchen itself is a bit like a closet at only 5' deep and 6' wide. What saves it is a large window. Out that window is a very different view. We look out onto a canal and can see the fishing boats float down, and there is a bridge for the four lane highway that goes over the canal. I keep the door to the kitchen closed most of the time as the noise level is high with the constant honking. About half way down the length of the gray granite counter, the level drops down to accommodate a propane cook top which is the way most people cook here. I have a two burner cooker that ends up being at the same level as the countertop which, by the way, is only 31" high. The US standard is 36" high. At first I felt a bit like I was in a child's play kitchen, but now I am quite used to it. The sink is a sort of 'token' sink like one you might find behind a bar and I can't even get our frying pan into it! A standard feature I see in kitchens here is one faucet and that one is cold water. I never thought of working in a kitchen without hot water. It is funny the things we assume we must have and then find we can almost forget about quite quickly. What seems to be the popular thing here is to wash the dishes in cold water and then put them in sterilizers. I have noticed that sometimes dishes are a bit greasy though. Sterile, greasy dishes I have not gotten use to. So, I got a plastic dish pan. I fill it with hot water from the bathtub, wash dishes with hot water and rinse with cold.

And then where does the rinse water go? Down the drain, which is another Chinese enigma. They are plumbed in a unique way. They actually look like afterthoughts to me. Basically they run a rubber hose from a sink to a rough cut hole in the floor. Sometimes the rubber tube comes out though and then the kitchen floor turns into a soupy mess. This was the state in which we found our kitchen. And talk about mildew. Here in the tropics, it is alive, well and calls out to you at any chance it gets. After Tim got some cement and sealed it off around the rubber hose it has been a lot less of a problem. We still do not open the lower cabinet doors unless we have the exhaust fan running though. The mildew monster lives there.

Almost all southern Chinese cuisine is done with a wok or clay pots that you can put over a flame. Anything we would bake they would steam. To find an oven was an interesting adventure. The only one we could find was about the size of two toaster ovens put together and covered with a liberal amount of southern Chinese dust. Several salespeople stood in a semi circle around the appliance and myself looking stunned. Anyone with half a brain could read their thoughts. I was thrilled and quite animated at finally finding an oven and then I saw the faces of these salespeople. What in the heck was I going to do with this stupid thing they wondered. They looked at the appliance and then looked at me. Who is this woman and how the heck I was going to make those doughy steamed dumplings or those soggy mooncakes that have an egg baked into the middle of them in this contraption. I started to explain to Cindy, our Chinese friend what I was going to make in the oven and she was not moved. Tim had been here longer than me and realized there was no sense in trying to explain what I was going to do with the oven. He was very gentle but firm in his suggestion that I just bake something in it for her. Cindy brightened at this suggestion and we moved on to the next phase - making the purchase. No one in the shop spoke English so she asked the price of this oven and told us it was $50. USD. I was thrilled and said fine, great price, let's get it and move on, but there is no such thing here in China. After much intense conversation she told us now it cost $25 USD. I guess she just couldn't resist the chance to try to talk the guy down. It is such a different style of functioning here in China. Their bargaining style, from my point of view, seems to include different ways of insulting the product they are trying to bargain for. They point at the thing they are bargaining for and make the most awful faces when talking about it, or find some little scratch to point out. Conversations seem to get quite intense. But then if someone cracks a joke in the middle of the process, everyone laughs easily as if they were old friends. But then they dive back into the discussion. By the end they were just fine but I was so tense and confused, I just stood there not knowing what to do. I finally remembered the word, or rather my version of the word for thank you, which inspired a few grins, and my friend grabbed my hand and dragged me out.

After a lot of hunting around I finally have a bare bones set of ingredients like basil, marjoram, cardamom, olive oil, baking powder, sea salt, butter, bleached white flour, English tea and herb teas. Finding these was hard work. I tried to find them on the mainland and maybe they are here somewhere, but my thought is that it would be easier and faster to learn all six Chinese dialects. When I talked to Tony, one of the translators about some of these ingredients, he told me flat out that they did not exist, case closed. He would not discuss it any further. It is not real convenient, but there are grocery stores in Hong Kong that carry some western foods. All these stores seem to be the Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales of the grocery world. They are beautiful stores with attractive displays and they have good sound systems that play jazz and other cool music, but the prices are about twice what we would pay at home. When I first saw the prices I kept asking around for what would be the Econofoods of Hong Kong, but after not finding anything else, I have come to look forward to a new shopping experience. At home in the US, I could set Olympic records for my dashes through supermarkets, but in Hong Kong it is a different. I rarely buy packaged foods in the states but here I find myself wandering throughout the entire store checking out everything as if it was fine jewelry. I find a certain homey comfort in roaming the isles looking at the western labels I used to refuse to acknowledge at home. Pringles, Frosted Flakes, Prego spaghetti sauce, and even the jars of marmite look wholesome and appealing. They have milk, butter, cream, double cream and yogurt which are not easily found, if at all, on the mainland. Any jar not in Chinese characters, I read. Any language that uses the same alphabet as the English language seems familiar and of great interest after looking at Chinese characters. The cheese selection is vast and quite impressive, and Tim approves of their stock of chocolate. I did finally find two stores here on the mainland that carry several western items. These include powdered milk, butter, peanut butter, walnuts with no msg, canned pineapple, Kraft grated parmesan cheese in the familiar shiny green shaker, instant coffee, Campbell's soup, and Ovaltine. I wonder how they got this combination. My approach now is find and collect what I can and then make something out of that.

After I assembled my little oven and costly little jars I began experimenting. Apple pie, pizza, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, roasted vegetables, baked chicken, oven fries and eggplant parmesan have given my little oven a thorough workout. It has almost no insulation, so I turn it and the exhaust fan on, open the window and close the door. And then I enjoy the best part of all -- the smells. I have come to appreciate the value of familiar smells in a foreign place. The people are wonderful, the food, well, some of the food is great. But when it comes right down to it, I agree with Dorothy. "There is no place like home", and the smells of home. We are very lucky in that fresh produce is abundant and all freshly picked daily. In this area they grow bananas, sugar cane, every kind of greens you can imagine, tangerines, snap peas, snake beans, lima beans, eggplant, green peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, several fruits and vegetables that I can't identify and rice. There are three crops of rice a year in this climate. Food is very inexpensive. I got about three pounds of spinach and 4 beautiful tomatoes for about 50 cents (American). There are many little produce stands along the roads, but I like the large markets the best. I find the fruit and vegetable section very interesting and beautiful. There are also stands of brightly wrapped Chinese candies. The meat section I cannot walk through. I have adjusted to seeing many things, but this may be the last. I cook all of our meals. Often when Tim and I eat at the factory people will come over and peer with curiosity and caution into our lunches and ask what the strange smells are. I'm sure the apartment is full of these smells of olive oil, basil and everything else. After we move out I can just imagine the scenario. Some Chinese folks will move in and notice these strange smells and all these little adaptations and then hear that some big Americans used to live here. And they will all stand around and talk about those strange Americans and wonder what their homes are like!

My Chinese Christmas Present

December 2000

On Christmas eve day we went out to lunch with the financial advisor of the company. I had found Lucy a very interesting woman from the first time I saw her. She is light skinned and has a beautiful round Chinese face. I look at her and can easily imagine her in full traditional Chinese court costume. Tim and I hadn't had time to really talk to her before this time and thoroughly enjoyed hearing about her life and travels. Lucy is an interesting blend of sweetness, refinement, and intelligence. She told Tim and I about different areas in China and what the main attractions were. Quanzhou is a very beautiful town by the sea that has many beautiful historic buildings. And Hainan Island, which we have all heard about, is known as the Hawaii of China. We also invited the driver, Lee, whose English vocabulary rivals my Chinese vocabulary to join us. Unfortunately he was unable to participate in the conversation, but seemed happy to observe. All the drivers are very helpful people, but ever since I started trying out Mandarin, Lee in particular gets a kick out of my attempts. He is very encouraging, but as a native Cantonese speaker giving me corrections on my Mandarin, I can tell that I am quickly developing into a phonetic nightmare. Sometimes after my attempts, he will quietly repeat what I have said to himself with a grin on his face. I figure I am providing these men some unusual entertainment.

We had a pleasant meal and visit with Lucy after which we went to buy a bike which was to be my Christmas present. Lee took us to what he said was the best bike shop and we began the search for the biggest woman's bike we could find. I haven't had a bike for years and don't really enjoy riding a bike, but it is my safest option for a bit more freedom while I am here. The owners of the shop, a cute young couple along with Lee worked hard at finding the perfect model for me. Still, the three of them would pull out a bike to show me, hold it next to me, look from my head down to my feet in amazement and utter a soft 'whaaah' under their breath. They just couldn't believe I was so tall. They would talk and talk and then find another bike to have me stand next to. A couple times I bent my knees a bit so it was the right size and they would all laugh and return to their search. I am getting used to being different, still working on the amazing amount of time it takes to do anything here.

People here have commented in amazement at my height which is only a bit over 5' 7". I have tried to tell them that many American women are taller than me but I could tell they didn't believe me. So, I have accepted the title as the tallest woman in the western hemisphere. Seems almost all communication is challenged here. It is truly amazing. You can ask a translator to ask one simple question, or even convey one simple statement like "this is a photograph of the house Tim and I are building". What is so complicated about that, right? The person translating can easily take up to 2 minutes of nonstop chatter to convey this. Not only that, but then a conversation begins between the translator and the translatee, if there is such a person, and that can go on, my guess is, for an infinite amount of time. I have started stepping into the conversations midstream and asking what they are talking about. Often the topic has changed completely but they are happy to fill me in on the conversation. I have come to the conclusion that any meeting of two or more Chinese people is a chance for a party, or at least a good long chat. On the other hand, communication on the level of friendliness is effortless. A smile given is rewarded with some of the most beautiful poster-like smiles I have ever seen.

Finally they found the biggest bike in the shop - it was bright yellow and black. It was by far the most unattractive bike I had ever seen. Some Iowa Hawkeye fan might have been in total ecstasy, but not I. I kept looking around. But after a few more minutes Tim gave me this look, which I have come to realize means "Give it up Deb, it ain't gonna happen on this continent". After a few moments of inner struggle, I settled. I have done a lot of aesthetic 'settling' since I have been here. Whether I have gained greater flexibility or tolerance or just learned how to repress in this area I'm not sure. It is probably a good exercise whatever is going on, so I try not to analyze it too much.

As I resigned myself to being the owner of the bright yellow bike, I commented to Lucy how the bike looked like a big bumblebee. She asked me to repeat myself. I am used to this request, and depending on the degree of confusion I see in the person's eyes, I simplify my message accordingly. I saw zero comprehension in Lucy's sweet face so I said in a slow clear voice how the bike looked like a big bee because it was bright yellow and black. I left out the 'bumble' part thinking that was probably confusing her. She lit up and I thought I had hit a home run until she stepped over to the bike and pointed out with a big smile how I had a 'bee' on my new bike. She thought I meant 'bell'. The smart thing to do at this time would have been to smile, nod and let it go. But, I didn't. I knew I could communicate this idea if I had just one more go at it. So I explained how there is an insect that is colored like my bike and it flies from flower to flower and then it makes a sweet liquid that people like to eat. I had seen honey in all the stores so I knew she would understand. She paused, and I knew I had gone too far. Her circuits were overloaded. She paused and then asked if I would like her to ask the bike store owners if they had some of this sweet liquid. It was at that point that I finally decided to let it go - for Lucy and myself. I said no and thanked her for helping me find a bike that had a bell and we exchanged big smiles. Big smiles of relief. And the level of relief we both felt I am certain transcended all boundaries of language.

Don't Try This At Home

Summer 2001

There is a British TV program called Don't Try This At Home that Tim and I have watched several times. Wicked friends and edgy vindictive spouses write in assignments for their loved ones to confront something that they have some aversion to. Like worms, spiders, small spaces, or heights. Tim finds the program exhilarating, while I usually find dishes to wash or file my nails instead of watching these poor people quake in their boots. Recently some woman walked up the Brooklyn Bridge suspension cables and I might as well have been her from the state of my stomach. They often attach a TV camera to the helmet of the person so you can see their perspective. What have we come to when we consider this entertainment?

My adventure was nothing that would ever make this program, but for me, it was close enough. We have this balcony off our living room that has a fabulous view of the beautiful formal gardens in the courtyard. Part of our great view is due to the fact that we are on the sixth floor. Our washing machine is out on the balcony too - a common Chinese practice here. So, today I was doing laundry and a number of other things. Thought I would start a load and then hop in the shower. I kicked off my shorts and then thought, maybe I should keep them on to go out on the balcony. I stepped out in a thin t-shirt and running shorts, threw the sheets in the machine and turned around to come back in and...the door was closed. When I say closed, that means locked.. I jiggled it, tried to slide it, tried to force it, went to the bedroom window and it was tight too. It was 2:15 and the balcony is on the west side and it was sunny and about 95°F with 95% humidity and it was not a good scene.

I surveyed the entire courtyard and all the other balconies...not a soul in usual. As I scanned I tried to remember the word for help and any word that could communicate some semblance of my predicament- nothing surfaced, but there was not a soul in sight anyway. So there I stood, in the sun, with my t-shirt, old shorts and no bra, and the washing machine happily humming away washing our sheets. I looked over the edge of the balcony six stories down. Paul, who owns the balcony next to us had left the door to the hall open. If I could get over to his balcony I could at least get out into the hall and go find a phone and call Tim to get in the apartment. But to get to Paul's balcony I had to walk on this ledge holding onto a rusty fence, with just room for my toes and the balls of my feet.

I have always been a bit acrophobic. The thought of walking this ledge had my breath rate doing some new rhythm. I was petrified. I looked for any other way. Then I thought maybe I could break one of the windows beside the sliding glass doors. I found a metal pole and rammed it into the window and it just bounced off. I was amazed. I ripped out the little rubber strip around the window and tried again and again and then just gave up. It was walk the ledge or wait a few hours out there in the blazing tropical sun for Tim to come home. I took off my shoes and put them where I could reach them through the fence. Then I stepped up to the ledge and jiggled the fence. It was rusty and I wanted to make sure it wouldn't just give way under my weight. I shook it enough to make sure it would hold me, but not enough to shake it loose. I got out to the end and stepped around the edge - I was half way there.

There are those wonderful moments in life that we treasure that always seem to fly by. And then there are the less enticing ones that stretch time out forever. Well this one was a real time freezer. but at the same time there was some satisfaction in doing something I never would have otherwise. A sort of empowering thing. It was only four feet to the other balcony, but half way out I had to step around the end of the ledge to come back the other side. I was doing pretty well, had gotten around the ledge and then realized my t-shirt had snagged on a rusty spike. Help. I didn't want to have to walk through the development with a torn t-shirt, but I didn't want to fall into the ground floor neighbor's koi pond either. I think it was around that time the fountain in the courtyard got turned on and my eyes went out and I saw the courtyard from a new expanded perspective. I also realized that in order to continue I really needed to breathe. I think I had been holding my breath until that point. I finally got my t-shirt loose, then it grabbed in another place, got that loose, three more steps and I was there on Paul's balcony. The relief was unbelievable, what a rush. Is this why people do extreme sports? Like this is an extreme sport. I know this is light years from rock climbing without a lifeline but it is as close as I plan to get to the sport. But soon after the rush, I started to shake - partly due to being in the direct sun for a half hour and partly due to hanging off the sixth story with out the Don't Do This At Home safety harness.

I grabbed my shoes and set out for the condo where the cooks work. As I have said, I end up being fairly high profile here as I am about 10" taller than most people and of opposite coloring. Today add to that scantily dressed with rust smeared all over my body and I might as well have been from another planet. Fortunately I did not see anyone but the guards but when I got to the condo it was locked.

I had to find a phone. I went to a guard post. I couldn't remember “phone” in Chinese, so did some frantic pantomiming. Unfortunately I was also talking nonstop while I was pantomiming. I usually limit my speech with the guards to things they can understand. They are a really sweet bunch of guys that are always trying out their English on me and I try out my Chinese on them. This was the first real conversation, or at least one side of a conversation, I had had with one of them. I remember going on in quite an animated fashion about how I couldn't believe what had happened and how I could have fallen...He stared at me in amazement. I suddenly realized he was overwhelmed so said "It's OK, never mind" and walked off. There was a little motorcycle taxi across the street. I began to move in his direction. He had been watching my efforts at communication and did understand. He hurriedly pulled out his phone and thrust it at me.

I called Tim and asked him to send his keys so I could get back in the apartment. I thanked the driver and walked back home to find two cleaning women and three painters in the entrance working and chattering away. When they saw me it was dead silence. Usually I just speak what little I know of Chinese. At this point I only had some English words at my disposal. I saw their faces and all I could say was “I know, I know, I am a mess” and they responded by pointing out that I had rust stains smeared on my clothes and body. Somehow I found this hilarious and started laughing. They laughed with me. Or was it at me? Soon Afoo, my favorite driver drove up with Tim’s keys. I could see his wonderful big grin through the windshield. As he handed me Tim’s keys he gave me a big thumbs up and kept repeating “Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan!”

The American Steak House

Summer 2001

A Chinese friend recently took us to a restaurant called The American Steak House. We were the token Americans. It was an amazing and baffling marriage of images. On the entrance of the log cabin-ish looking building, was a illuminated sign which included a Fred Flintstone sort of character was kicking up his heels. Inside stone and log walls framed a large poster of an American steer with the different parts explained in Chinese, of course. Our host told us all the meat was shipped from the US. Then we crossed a little bridge over a stream that lead to a pond that had koi in it. The pond had a waterfall and around the edges of the room were the ever present restaurant fish tanks which I think were just ornamental, but it is hard to know for sure. Then between the tables meandered a gravel path. Go figure. We tried to get all the food to arrive at the same time, but old habits die hard. Our individual meals arrived one by one, with 15 minutes or so between, Chinese style. So, we shared our American meals Chinese style.


Summer 2001

Evening seems to be a time I have the most interesting conversations with people in the office. Things are a bit more relaxed and people seem less shy to start up a conversation with me. One night Ben and Fred, my two favorite men here, and I started chatting about relationships. I soon noticed a bit of a black cloud seemed to descend over Fred. His girlfriend had come to town to see him was and he was wondering when he was going to be able to go and see her. I responded that he should go right away, to which he grinned but said he was suppose to get a project assignment from Tim. As often happens, Tim had had been called off to work out some emergency somewhere in the factory before he had gotten to talk to Fred.

Ben asked me how long Tim and I had been together. I told them around 13 years. They were impressed and Ben asked me to teach them something about relationships, like I am an expert...So in my effort to avoid the subject I told them I thought Tim could better give them a man's point of view. I said I could only tell them my point of view as an American woman, but that may be quite different than a Chinese woman's point of view and of no use to them. They were still eager, so, I with some hesitation I told them, in my opinion, when you make a date with a woman, you should never keep her waiting. To this statement they both gave a little nervous laugh and Ben followed up with, 'oh yes'. And I began to think maybe Chinese women were not so different than American women. But if you have to be late, I continued, at least call her and let her know what is going on and when she can expect to see you. Don't make the mistake that no news is better than bad news. More nervous little laughs... Fred especially looked worried and Ben said 'oh yes, that is a good idea', or something like that. At that point I told Fred I had an idea, to which he brightened up immediately. I suggested he call his girlfriend, tell her he was on his way, and was looking forward to seeing her, and then leave immediately before Tim got back. I told him I was sure Tim would agree that he should go immediately. I was actually not authorized to do this, but luckily, it worked out to be fine with Tim, the project, Fred, Fred's girlfriend, and me - we got home by 10:00pm for a change!

A Fine Translator

Summer 2000

Tim has a wonderful translator that he met at a job fair in Guangzhou. He is 30 years old and his English name is Ben. After going through many a translator that non-English speaking people in the Personnel department hired for him, Tim wisely went and hand picked his own. Ben recently told me how he happened to be at the job fair that day.

A good friend invited Ben to accompany him to this job fair so they could get a chance to visit a bit. Although Ben had a job he enjoyed and was not interested in changing, he went to be with his friend. When he got to the fair, he said he soon noticed Tim , who although is an intelligent and gentle looking person, he also towered over everyone else. Ben decided that maybe he would interview for the job with Tim. As it turned out, Ben was Tim's #1 choice. Ben told me that as soon as he interviewed with Tim, he knew the real reason he had come to the job fair. The Chinese have such a sweet way of expressing themselves sometimes. I told him how Tim had come home from the interview and called me and told me how he had met this man named Ben and he was his #1 choice. Ben was very touched by this.

Tim chose very well. Not only is Ben's English very good, but he is an intelligent, responsible, kind person with an excellent sense of organization. Many a time when he senses confusion he tries to explain the Chinese way of thinking. When I have asked him to help me learn to say certain lines in Chinese he always gives me gracious ways of expressing myself. I know this not due to my great knowledge of the language, but from the responses I get when I use Ben's lines. I have had many an interesting conversation with him about politics, philosophy, and relationships. I always look forward to visits with Ben.