Sunday, November 16: At the end of the day, it’s the motorbike ride back to the university that lifts my spirits and reminds me that I’m only in China for a year, and that I’d better savor every moment.
This week, I finished the grueling and thankless task of marking 142 essays by 71 students. Twenty hours of sitting and marking boring and often senseless essays made for a lot of physical discomfort, general stiffness and back and shoulder pain, as well as a foul mood. It’s over now, and I survived it, but it was NOT fun. I also felt a lot of resentment about the workload of the writing teachers vs. the reading teachers, who had no midterm exams to mark. Early in the semester, the Level 1 teachers had discussed the possibility of the reading teachers helping the writing teachers mark half the exams at midterm, but that plan just vaporized. No one asked my opinion; the decision was just made without any input from me.
I hate unfairness in the workplace.
When I take these overseas jobs, I never know exactly what I’ll be teaching. It’s usually some general integrative English that includes writing, speaking, listening and reading. When I arrived in China to find I would be teaching writing to nearly 80 students, I was not happy. I didn’t have any say in this. When I found out that some teachers who were hired made it a condition of their job acceptance that they NOT teach writing, I was upset, mostly that I didn’t think to make such a demand. I guess I need to look out for myself more in the future.
I keep reminding myself I’m here for the travel and that sometimes to get what I want, I have to put up with a lot of BS.
The other thing that’s contributed to my bad mood is the weather. I’ve hated the weather here since day one, with its high humidity and heat. In the last two weeks, the temperatures have dropped, but the air remains damp. It’s rained nearly every day since November 1, and when not raining it’s been overcast. For someone who thrives on going on outings and taking pictures, this has caused me some consternation.
Saturday it rained, but today no rain is forecast, even though it’s gray and dreary. Tired of having spent the last week cooped up inside, I venture out to the Nanning People’s Park. I take a taxi for 20 yuan and arrive to a bustling front gate with crowds of people milling about.
Built in 1951, the People’s Park is also called Bailong Park for the lake that lies on its southern edge. According to “Records of Scenic Resorts,” a famous general called Di Qing from the Song dynasty was once stationed here with his army. One day, he spotted a flock of white sheep walking along the lake. As it reminded him of a moving white dragon, he named the lake Bailong which means white dragon in Chinese (China Highlights: People’s Park, Nanning).
Scenic spots in the park are Zhenning Fort, Bailong Lake, Jiuqu Bridge, Huxin Pavilion, Bailong Restaurant, the Children’s Amusement Park, Goldfish Pool, Underground Ice Room, Martyrs Memorial and so on.
Just inside the gate is the main body of the park, Wangxian Slope, which is covered with green trees. A 10-meter-wide corridor of 141 steps leads to the top. On the top of the mountain, there was once an Ancestral Hall to memorize the historical celebrities who contributed a great deal to Nanning, namely Di Qing, Sun Miao, Yu Jing, Su Jian, Wang Yangming and Mang Yitu. However, the Hall was destroyed by the Guangxi warlord Lu Rongting in 1917 and replaced by an emplacement, the Zhenning Emplacement, or Zhenning Fort. Built with bluestone, it is a ring-shaped castle with a high board on which is placed a German cannon made in 1890. Since the Wangxian Slope is the highest place in Nanning, the emplacement offers a bird’s-eye view of Nanning.
I walk up to the Fort and pay a one yuan entrance fee. The fort is small and derelict, complete with walls of peeling paint, a Buddha, a stone turtle and incense offerings, a large cannon on which children are climbing, and some costumes rented out for photos.
When I leave Zhenning Fort, I’m bombarded by jarring noise from every direction. A number of groups are playing or singing loud music. I’m annoyed at first by the mish-mash of noise. With so many people playing their various tunes, it sounds as grating and cacophonous as an out-of-tune symphony orchestra warming up.
I sit on a low wall to watch a group of middle-aged ladies practicing dance steps to a lively beat. One level down the hill, a man is playing a traditional Chinese instrument, while a lady in a red shirt sings a high-pitched whining song over a microphone. Music is emanating from other unseen quarters. Children are running around squealing and yelling, adding to the general discord.
I follow a path downhill, where I can see some water through the trees. South of Wang Xian Slope lies Bailong Lake, surrounded by green bamboos and willows. In the middle of the lake, there is an island, connected to the land by two bridges, Jiuqu Bridge and Sankong Bridge, located to the west and the north of the island respectively. And on every bridge and every bit of shoreline, there are Chinese people.
The lake is a beehive of activity, from people skimming the surface in strange-shaped boats to people gathering under shady pavilions, to people standing on a puzzle-shaped bridge feeding koi. People, people everywhere. There is no way to escape people in a big Chinese city like Nanning. It’s the complete opposite experience to my life in Oman, a country so sparsely populated that I could easily escape into wilderness and serenity.
Before I head to the Children’s Amusement Park, I’m pleasantly surprised to find a relatively clean public bathroom with a western-style toilet (although it’s designated as handicapped). It’s highly unusual to find any Western-style toilets in China. In Korea and Oman, which mostly had squat toilets, there were generally a few Western-style toilets available as well. Here in China, it’s rare to find them anywhere.
At the gaudy Children’s Amusement Park, I see children twirling about in all kinds of colorful contraptions. This little girl doesn’t seem to be having much fun.
I have some fun watching this whirl-a-gig ride. Two mothers are busily snapping photos of their children. I have fun snapping photos of them, and I also play around with the aperture a bit to see if I can capture the motion. The results are below.
I stop at a little kiosk to get some popcorn, which I munch on as I continue on my way. Finally, I sit on a bench near the Monument to Revolutionary Martyrs, where an old man wanders over and attempts to communicate with me. He points to the Monument sign and gestures to the steps leading to the monument. He continues to talk to me even though I apologetically explain to him that I only speak English. It apparently makes no difference to him that my responses are totally inappropriate to what he’s saying, because he continues to chatter and then hands me a pamphlet for the Natural History Museum, which I passed earlier on the grounds near the Children’s Amusement Park.
When the man wanders off, probably bored by in inability to communicate, I make my way up 157 steps to the Monument. The monument was built in honor of the revolutionary martyrs who laid down their lives for the revolutionary struggles of the Chinese people in the age of revolution and war.
The structure stands 20 metres tall and looks like a smaller replica of the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square. On the east and west sides of the monument there is an inscription which reads “Eternal glory to the revolutionary martyrs!”
Built in 1956, this monument is now a historical site for patriotic education. The small square at the foot of the hill is also a good place for people to do morning exercises (Nanning here: Nanning People’s Park (3)).
As I leave the Monument, I come across a couple of foreigners eating a picnic lunch on a bench. I do a double-take, and they do too. I tell them it’s always shocking to me when I see foreigners in Nanning. They agree.
Continuing on my way, I pass couples playing badminton, children blowing bubbles, old people doing exercises, a middle-aged woman singing alone in the forest. I see proud grandparents pushing their grandchildren in carriages and couples strolling along quietly, hand in hand. Here in this park, the People’s Park, is China in a nutshell, every aspect of this multi-faceted culture in one tropical microcosm.
I come across this unusual statue, but I don’t know what it represents.
I walk through a tropical forest until I return unexpectedly to the back side of Zhenning Fort, back to where I started.
I eventually reach the entrance and head to the street to flag down a taxi. I wave at a number of empty taxis, including one that has just dropped its passenger off. I’ve heard from other teachers that taxi drivers don’t like to pick up foreigners because they can’t understand us, but I haven’t really experienced this problem much so far. After about five empty taxis pass me by, a man on a motorbike somehow manages to ask where I’m going. I tell him Guangxi Daxue (Pinyin for Guangxi University), but he still looks baffled. Most Chinese never understand me, even though I feel like I’m pronouncing it correctly. I show him my trusty Chinese-English Nanning map.
The man pulls out his wallet and shows me a twenty and a five. I get that he is offering me a ride for 25 yuan, even though we can’t understand one word of each other’s language. I nod and say, OK, and then hop on the back of his bike.
I don’t know what on earth possesses me to take risks like this when I’m in a foreign country. I would no more hop on a stranger’s motorcycle in the U.S. than I would leap off of a tall building. But here, I feel safe. Maybe it’s foolish or maybe not. There are so many people in China that even if someone wanted to kidnap me or harm me in some way, I don’t know where he’d take me without hundreds of other people around to witness.
With utter abandon, and with no small degree of foolhardiness, I hop on the back, and this ride back to the university is what saves my day. I love the thrill of riding on a motorbike through the chaos of China and feeling the wind on my face. I love hanging on for dear life as we dodge and weave around two- and three- and four-wheeled contraptions. We whiz past buses and taxis and shiny new cars and old ladies in flowered hats pedaling carts of cardboard or vegetables or rubbish. We flow like a river, along with scores of fellow motorbikes, around corners and we merge into new traffic patterns. It’s a thrill, and I think to myself: I can’t believe I’m in China. I am! I’m really here.
Though parts of my life here sometimes depress me, most often I remember that this, this living in a foreign land, is what makes me feel alive; it’s what challenges and thrills me, what makes my life a surprising and unlikely adventure. 🙂