I woke up last night with a start. I wasn’t sleeping that deeply anyway – the construction site across the street was once again going through the night. Bang! Bang! Bang! Beep! Beep! Beep! Crash! Boom! Clang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Once again I was sleeping on the floor. The rusty springs on my “mattress” have collapsed further giving anyone sitting or lying on it the feeling of being sucked into quicksand. There was something crawling over my foot, something small and light but very strong, cold and hard. I pull my feet in and, illuminated in the faint light pouring in through the window; saw a two-inch-long brown cockroach. I rushed across the room to get a broom and dustpan and promptly sent it flying into the night. I was dripping with sweat. It wasn’t especially warm last night – the low 70s. I’ve been sweating profusely recently. My thin, cotton nemakimono was soaked.
I can’t say that everything here is terrible, though. Last week I gave the third of three sample classes. To paraphrase Dame Shirley Bassey, praise be upon her, I gave the performance of my life. For the first time I managed to engage the children relatively well. It had to be, their parents were in the gallery. There I was, only the third time I ever taught children and no one revolted or strung me up from a tree. I was exhausted afterwards and collapsed into a chair to the side. One of the older students, a ten-year-old boy came up and gave me a fruit salad that he made me. Many of the children thanked me as they left. This was much better than what I received from any of my co-workers. They mostly ignored me after I made them lose face. Really, why is it so difficult for them to shop up bananas and melons? I managed to do as much as the other 3 in less time.
Outside of work, I’ve done reasonably well in my neighbourhood. The security guards all like me and we do our best to make small talk. The employees at corner shop all also seem to like me. Communication is silent, but it is effective. A few days ago I was involved in an incident there that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. To a large degree one becomes desensitised to pushing and bumping in China. There are simply too many people to avoid it. There is, even in China, a recognised distinction between simple, unavoidable brush-pasts and savagely shoving people out of my way. Two women and their hideous brat of a young male companion were buying a few items. The aisles in that shop are narrow, but two people can easily avoid each other. One of the two women was some 6 inches shorter than me but was far wider. As she walked past me, she shoved me into a stack of 22-pound rice sacks. As I fell, a few were knocked asunder. The clerk saw that and seemed thoroughly disgusted. The three were fairly demanding and were fairly unpleasant to her as well. After they were finally done I walked back and put the rice sacks back in their proper place. When I paid for my two 3.5-quart bottles of water she shot me a glance indicating that she was thoroughly disgusted with the situation. I have since been informed that the behaviour of the three was simply unacceptable even by Chinese standards. The clerk seemed to enjoy the fact that the two forgot an item they had purchased.
What’s strange is that by-and-large people here are decent enough. They mean no harm and can often be helpful. Some are even affable. The only real barrier is language. Strangely, my Japanese skills have been flourishing since coming to China but my Chinese has gone absolutely nowhere. There are teachers who give lessons, but this is where my tendency to be very particular about certain things becomes a problem. I can’t manage simplified characters which are the ones used on the Mainland. They are, admittedly, easier to write than the traditional ones I’m accustomed to and was largely taught in the context of Japanese. (Japanese uses a combination of traditional and simplified characters. Roughly 2/3 of the required learning list are traditional, 1/3 are simplified. Other than that, they are traditional) There is also something missing with most simplified characters. The character for “love”, 愛 has the character for “heart”, 心, at its very centre. The simplified version, 爱 simply means “friendly feelings”. Similarly, the character for “noodle”, 麵、is made up of the characters for “wheat” and a flat surface. The simplified version, 面, only has the radical for a flat surface and must be understood completely in context. It can be understood, but, with the self-assured superiority of one who has been almost exclusively exposed and surrounded by traditional, is not quite correct and is very off-putting.