Good Friday -2008 Daban, Inner Mongolia

After two sandstorms, Alice, my temporary roommate and I moved into our Daban apartment this week reminiscent of being married 50 years ago, boxes instead of furniture and needing everything. I suspect the school’s director here is worried about enrollment and told his wife – Spend no more til we make a profit.

So we have no refrigerator (but we can put a few items outside the window on a 5” sill at 50 degrees F.), no TV that works nor the DVD jack attachments, just snow, no kitchen sink, no microwave, a broken water dispenser which we washed out and turned on its side to be a stand for the keyboard given to me last week. The large thermos leaks but we have an electric wand you plunge in the top and 10 minutes later you have hot water all day.

Our kitchen is 1930-ish – even the oil cloth strips tacked to the wooden boards look familiar and a water line sits 3’ off the floor. Old toweling is tacked to the edge to hide the food and pans underneath. 60 watt bulbs are screwed into the ceiling sockets but my desk is here with a lamp so I work comfortably.

The apartment itself is pristine with a large picture window looking out on an 8-lane highway which has no traffic. Daban must believe in its future. Later my cat Dada arrived. He has been trapped in foster care with a large puppy shipped in from Tibet.

We went shopping and bought 300 Yuan in food and supplies…..frying pan, wok, extension cord, condiments, 6 water glasses, utensils, scissors, food. It is a princely sum when you realize that a worker’s monthly wage is about 1,000 Yuan. Little isolated Daban is the only place I have found Dragon Fruit for sale. It is a bizarre fruit, with harsh outside spikes in shocking pink, but when ripe absolutely delicious. It grows in the tropics so must be shipped in from Malaysia or perhaps Hainan Province.

The town is overrun with 3 wheeled trucks carrying lumber, bricks, concrete blocks, animals, people, and food like giant motorized wheelbarrows. There are miniature cars, also 3 wheeled, in shocking pink, lime, yellow, orange, red, and aqua coughing and choking their way around town for 2 Yuan if you can stuff yourself inside the cab at all. They remind me of 3-legged dogs – you are amazed they actually function at all. A compact car taxi is 3 Yuan and if you want something larger, 5-10 Yuan for luggage and visitors.
The government is sending 300 real taxis here (on 4 legs) to get the sputtering rascals off the road but I will miss them because they define the town.

My task here is to prepare free public lectures for teachers and school administrators to justify our presence here. The Beijing Education Bureau wants American English taught to foster trade with the Western partners, America and Canada. Local schools, teachers and principals have been bad mouthing us – we “don’t have a textbook”, “don’t teach to the national test” and “don’t pronounce things right, i.e. the British way.”

In addition to accent there is American slang and idioms such as “make my day” and acronyms like NASA and IRS, and ASAP. British English has been taught here for a century or more so the Chinese believe British people speak the same language as Americans and are surprised to find that Brits are actually foreigners to us.

Of course no teacher likes being corrected by a student but we have attracted many of the very best local students cutting into other schools’ profits. One private school printed a harangue against us in the newspaper. I look forward to working with Mongolians.
My free lectures with a translator while not halting the slander might at least lessen it. In preparation David and I will go to the school’s administrators with entry tickets lest we attract our competitors to the lectures. I’ve already been approached by several school spies so I am now more cautious than before.

Mary Jane Ellsworth and Kathryn Davis sent me 2 large packages on the same day with lots of new clothes, long underwear, a fleece jacket, a needed textbook, t-shirts, 2 sweaters and a dress – my Easter clothes plus a shower curtain. We put up two sticky hangars on opposite walls of the bathroom and voila – it’s up. All this went into a rickety wardrobe. Chinese apartments have no closets or other built ins, but they are plumb with new radiators, vertical white panels flush with the wall.

After my 2nd shower in 3 weeks, I put on a new flannel granny gown and got into bed. Dada came up to kiss me goodnight, or perhaps he was checking to be sure this was His Great Emancipator before he would lie down beside me near the pillow for the night.

He and I have a new home.

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