Saturday, May 29, 2010

Parting Thoughts

May 29, 2010

My last day started slowly, with an 8:00 am wakeup and a trip out to the cafeteria where I joined Mary, Pat and Tim in trying to spend all of the remaining money on my pre-paid campus food card: a whopping twenty-two yuan (about three U.S dollars). I managed to get the card down to a balance of ten mao with the following purchases: one large savory Chinese crepe which I ate immediately; one bowl of congee with pickled vegetables (which I poked at, but didn’t finish); one 1.5 liter bottle of Nongfu Spring water for my room; one small bottle of Robust water for the ride to the airport tomorrow morning; one yogurt for my 5:00 am breakfast before departure; one peach Danish to accompany my yogurt; one small Snickers bar for when my blood sugar drops sometime mid-flight and food service is still hours away; one pack of spearmint Extra sugarless gum to chew after I eat my Snickers bar. The preparations had begun.

I spent the morning after our congenial hour-long breakfast further researching transport options for the pup (Korean Air is looking promising), then brushing up on vocabulary for my anticipated conversation with the vet. I needed to review words I haven’t used since my girls were babies in China (like “kilograms” and “vaccinations” and “health examination certificate”), as well as learn a few new puppy-specific words (like “rabies” and “worms” and “export permits”). Then I set out on the twenty minute walk to Paula’s apartment, where one of the CTBU Social Work graduate students who has studied at Widener, Xiang Fang, was due to meet us. Xiang Fang (English name, Becky) is likely the person who will be accompanying “our puppy” to Philadelphia in a couple of months. She is also head-over-heels in love with “our puppy” and is his officially designated godmother and protectoress for after our departure.

The three of us hailed a cab and took our puppy and his growing accompaniment of gear to Dr. Peng’s office, where he was standing with a worried looking couple and their Springer Spaniel, administering an IV. His wife, who works as his assistant, lit up when she saw our puppy and us. She was just about to begin feeding another puppy, which had been brought to them a few days ago: this one only one week old. When we saw this little guy three days ago we thought he might be near-death, but he is much stronger now and Dr. Peng thinks his prospects are good. As his wife began to gently feed the little pup a bottle, an elderly man arrived carrying his bicycle up the stairs, the Peng’s three-year old son in tow. The little boy bowed deeply when he saw me and said a very loud and clear, “Hello Auntie!” to everyone’s laughter. After settling the fee for boarding our pup and the fees for his vaccinations and travel permits, the Pengs told us they would be keeping him in their home so that he wouldn’t be exposed to all the diseases that come through the animal hospital. I asked if there is anyone home during the day and they said, yes, Grandpa: the sweet faced elderly man who had been carrying the bike up the stairs and who was now watching a children’s English instructional DVD with his grandson. So our puppy will be doted on after-all by a grandparent with time on his hands. We have indeed found the perfect foster family. My biggest concern now is that the grandpa will so dote on our puppy that he will grow fat in the next ten weeks before travel and exceed the weight limits for in-cabin travel! If this is the case, I am comforted anticipating that this family may bond so much with our puppy that they choose to keep him as their own, sparing him a cargo trip to the U.S. in a few months. As attached as I’ve become to our little guy, I’d be delighted if he were to become a Peng puppy.

The rest of my afternoon I was on my own, and decided to head to a section of town I had been to early in the week with my faculty friends. Ten minutes away by cab is Wan Da Plaza: a large shopping area with lots of restaurants and boutiques as well as the more predictable mall franchises, including a Starbucks. I realized I hadn’t had an afternoon to myself in a good while and wanted to poke around at my own speed, nurse a latte while people-watching, walk at my fast clip, stopping when I wanted to stop. I’ve also been wanting to find some good clothing boutiques, the kind I used to stumble upon in Beijing now and again where I might find breezy blouses in layers of soft cotton or silk with elegant lines and intricate stitching, but still at student prices. My outing at Wan Da met all my expectations: it was bustling on this Saturday afternoon, without feeling over-crowded: Starbucks was air-conditioned and nearly empty; and there were, indeed, boutiques once I ventured away from the mall. I sat outside with my latte and people-watched, captivated by the roller-blade lessons for children, nostalgic for my ice skating lessons last winter with my girls. With the help of two young saleswomen who called me “big sister,” I found a lovely black long and silky sleeveless blouse, a terrific long linen skirt with deep pockets, and a funky and fun wool dress, shopping at my own speed, all for a pittance.

I finally hit a wall in my walking and realized I needed to return to campus to pack. I had become a bit disoriented and contemplated my location, then realized I really had no idea where I might best catch a cab back to campus. I asked two young girls who looked like students and they directed me down the road, across an overpass, then over to the northwest corner where there should be a steady flow of cabs. As I stood on the overpass I realized, again, what a noisy and disorienting place China can be. There was construction going on all around me, and coupled with the sounds of pounding and the whir of machinery was the pulse of rush hour traffic: the beeping of horns, the grinding of brakes, the loud calls of one pedestrian to another. When I arrived at the recommended corner, cabbie after cabbie told me he couldn’t take me, he was getting off of work. I puzzled over this; it was 3:20 pm. I thought about my students, scattered about today doing their final errands, each of them markedly more independent than they were when they arrived in China over three weeks ago, none of them having studied Chinese before arriving here, besides the preliminary lessons I gave them in preparation. I felt humbled thinking of the challenges they have taken on and how intense this experience alone must be for them—making their way home in a cab—but they have been doing it time after time, day after day. I finally found a cabbie to take me “home” and he explained to me the reasons for the 3:30 changing of the guards. I made a note to myself to explain this to the students, wondering how many of them were refused late-afternoon rides home, not knowing it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with city regulations.

It’s 1:30 am now and people are still milling in the halls of the dorm. Tim is capturing students’ final reflections on video to be incorporated into a documentary he’s making of our journey. He joined us on the balcony of the suite I share with Pat, and shared with us that the students’ number one lesson seems to be that we are not all that different from our Chinese counterparts. What a lesson to learn. My bags are almost packed and my window is wide open. The night sky is dark and moonless; there are crickets chirping, but no construction. I’ve set my alarm for 5:00, anticipating waking to the sound of birds, hoping for one lonely call from a renegade peacock.

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