Travels with John Smith
Chapter 40, year 6 (2016-2017)
The Aftermath of the floods
-home to mold and dust
-fishing from the campus
-staying on the trike
-Chinese Medicine in the park
-John’s birthday and cheese wiz
-Tailor Street Halloween costumes
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 40, year 6 (2016-2017)
The Aftermath of the Flood
We step off the plane in Wuhan, to 36 degree weather and a fairly clear sky. We came through Beijing from Canada and the sky there was brown and thick with smog clouds. Our driver, Zhang was meant to pick us up at the airport but isn’t here yet. I text him to say we have just landed but need to get our bags (I do this using my translation app-my Chinese is still far away from being able to write characters). I guess this reminded him that he was meant to be here because on our way out with our baggage, he calls. I have forgotten my Chinese over the summer but manage to understand that he is still going to be an hour, which means he is now probably half way here so we can’t really cancel and take a taxi. We sit down in a cafe, order a cold drink and he arrives, sweating and full of apologies. It seems something got lost in the translation and he thought we were coming at 10:00 pm, not am. The traffic is as usual for that time of morning, busy. It takes an hour and a half to get to the school and our apartment.
We open the door and I notice a breeze, and the apartment looks dustier than it should, having been closed up for the summer. On closer inspection, we see that there is a window open in every room and the balcony doors on both balconies are wide open. We notice mold on some of the furniture and then on some clothing and shoes and bed. It looks like someone opened the windows and doors to get air into the place after the flooding we saw pictures of, back in the beginning of July. This is a little worrying. Have the windows been open all summer? Our apartment is on the 2nd floor so luckily the water didn’t get in, but we guess they were not so lucky downstairs.
The pictures we saw this summer were frightening. The people who were still on campus took videos of the entire campus under water, in some places up to people’s chest. We saw pictures of buses plowing through the water that was just above the wheels of the bus. Other pictures of people with their children on their shoulders, trying to cross the street with water up to their waists. Some of the teachers that took later flights back said the taxis had to let them out on the ramps leading up to the airport and they had to carry their suitcases above their heads. Good luck if you had a heavy one! Not surprising for a city that is mostly water, without the downpour.
I have a bandage on my left ring finger where I sliced my finger open this summer and had to get stitches. I am trying not to get it wet while washing dishes, clothes and wiping down surfaces. Lots of leather stuff has to be thrown out as the mold has made some things impossible to clean and have hardened after being damp for so long. We have been vacuuming up layers of dust from the month or 2 of open windows, and it’s been a whole day of cleaning just so we can sleep in a clean bed. Everything in the fridge has to be thrown out so we will have to go out to eat. It is 8:00 pm and we are finally able to go lie down. It feels good. We haven’t slept since we left Canada and with the jet lag, we are exhausted.
It is 5:00am and I wake up, aware that John is gone. I guess he is probably riding his bike around the track so I read for a bit, then throw on my biking clothes to go and join him. I only do a couple miles around the track as I want to get my stitches out today.
We run into our neighbour Vicky from upstairs and she tells us about the adventures they had while the campus was flooded. She says no one could leave the building when the floods came because they couldn’t get the main door open. For 3 days. There was no power that whole time. The water from the lake came up to the building and the balcony doors. There were fish swimming past the window and the boy downstairs, who lives on the ground floor, caught a fish about a foot long from the apartment window. She says after 3 days, they couldn’t stay inside anymore and had to wade through water waist deep to get to the street. When the water finally subsided, they had to clean for a couple weeks so I guess compared to them, we are lucky.
We are now into the 1st month of school and everything is in full swing. They had some difficulties with recruitment this year or visas or something and we are short staffed. Some of the teachers are covering classes while we wait for the new teachers to come. Everyone is a little stressed and John and I fear they won’t be able to keep the teachers they have if the work load keeps getting bigger for the ones that are here.
I am on the TOC (Teacher on call) list. I have spoken before about how much I hate being a TOC and this year I have been lucky (despite the shortages) because I have mostly only had to cover silent reading classes and various classes at the FNS (Foreign National School). They have a higher level of English, they are smaller classes and range from 5 to 15 years old. Their teachers leave easy lesson plans that are well organized too so this is much easier than the High School.
The Library also seems easier this year, because we know what we need to do and we also know how to limit the unnecessary work we were both doing to ‘prove ourselves’ in our respective jobs last year. I have started doing music at the Foreign National School again and am now doing it for both the Kindergarten to Grade 3’s and the Grade 4 to 9’s. Am really flying by the seat of my pants as am not sure what I will do from week to week but John suggested working towards a project/show so that is the loose plan for now.
I am meant to be working on my own in the Foreign National library too for a few hours a week but all the cleaning and organizing we did before the end of the year was washed away in the floods as it is on the ground floor and right next to the lake which overflowed. Most of the books are ok as they were on the higher shelves but the furniture is moldy and will have to be replaced.
The landscape in the area around the school is changing every day. We are surrounded by tall high rises and there are some small shops and restaurants that have sprung up over the last couple years. Wuhan has finally grown to our doors and we used to have to travel some distance to buy vegetables, fruit, get cash from a bank or a quick meal but now it is across the street.
We are leaning forward, driving down a busy somewhat steep hill on a trike. A trike is a small scooter with a flatbed behind it-like a mini truck. I have my right arm around John to make sure I don’t fall off the side as there is not really enough room for 2 people up front. I am holding the rear view mirror with my left hand, as it is hanging by a thread. I tell John when any vehicles or especially trucks were about to overtake us. Just before we left home, John mentioned he didn’t think the brakes were great and I am now worried we won’t be able to stop at the busy intersection at the bottom of the hill we are on. We have been praying no one cuts us off or walks in front of us on the way to Zou Dian, a buzzing little fruit and vegetable market, (about 15 min by trike) from our house.
This is our first time out on the streets with the trike. Many of the younger teachers drive scooters and motorbikes, and have been warned about the dangers of doing so, but it is very convenient so they take their chances. The traffic, as I mentioned before is pretty crazy and most have had at least a minor spill so wearing a helmet is wise, even though some do not. Many have ended up in hospital with broken bones or gashes so John and I have played it safe, sticking to taxis, trains and buses, until now.
Last June, Gabby and Jerry gave us their trike when they left Wuhan to live in Canada again. It is electric and has a battery that needs to be charged so we’ve got a chord hanging from the 2nd floor balcony off of the kitchen down to ground. We have taken it for a test drive around the track at the school, a couple times, to get used to it before being brave enough to take it out on the busy street. Gabby and Jerry both have scooters and she knows the guy who sells them so gets deals for the new teachers who come here and want one. She laughs when I tell her we have only driven the trike around the track so we thought we’d feel the fear and do it anyway.
It is a couple weeks later and we are walking towards the school as the area around Guangu is crazy- jam packed with buses, cars and people so getting a taxi or bus is impossible. We go into a park we have been to before and sit on a bench in the shade to rest for a bit.
There are some middle aged people in white coats sitting to our right, on little red plastic stools with a big sign behind them. The sign is written in Chinese characters, except the words ‘Chinese Medicine’ and the name of a hospital. It seems they are drumming up business. We watch them prodding a guy who has a large bandage on his neck and presumably tell him what to do and maybe to go to the hospital. It is a little surreal to see a hospital touting for business in the park.
This week it will be John’s birthday. I don’t have anything planned for it yet. It falls on Terry Fox day and we will be doing the run at the school but as much as he likes exercise these days, I do not think this qualifies as a birthday activity! I have ordered a jar of Cheese Wiz from Tao Bao (China’s online shopping app). Cheese Wiz is a processed cheese spread in a jar and is John’s favourite guilty pleasure. It is not easy to find here in China and the only place that had said it wouldn’t arrive until after his birthday as its coming from America!
I also ordered a ‘banana chair’ which is a bed-like blow up lounge chair that can be filled up by running and allowing it to fill with air, or put in front of an air conditioner for the easier way to do it. They are very comfy and I thought it would be good for those times when he needs to take a nap in the back room of his cooking classroom. Not that he would. But in case he does, it will be nice to know he could. I also love that they can be folded down quite small and carried in a little bag to a park or lake and voila, you have a place to relax.
It is John’s birthday and the Cheese Whiz hasn’t arrived. I made him a card with lots of jokes about getting old, blew up some balloons and gave him the ‘banana chair’ this morning. Jeanine, a teacher who is an amazing baker asked if I wanted her to make him a cake and I told her what he likes. She made him an extremely moist and delicious chocolate brownie cake with a peanut butter icing.
I came downstairs at the beginning of each of his classes and told the kids in his classes that it was his birthday. They then sang Happy Birthday and we played a game where they had to guess how old Mr Smith is. Most of them had no idea so I told them his age was in the title of a famous song by the Beatles (some knew who they were but they still had to look it up on their phones). The 1st person in the class to find the answer got a prize (supplied by John).
It was also Terry Fox day today so we had the annual school run (about 4 kilometres around the school grounds). John said he didn’t want to go out for dinner or do anything so apart from the singing, it felt like a normal day.
I am in Tailor street to get some capes made for Halloween costumes. Amanda (a teacher from the middle school) and her daughter, Cassidy are with me as they had never been. When we arrived, the main section of the market was gone and there was a huge tarp covering the place where the entrance used to be. I was told that when the rains came, back in June-July, the roof collapsed from the weight of the water, so they have to rebuild the whole place. Since it was mainly a concrete shell on 2 floors, completely open at the front and dark and dingy, I wonder if it will be truly improved when they are finished. Mostly, I wonder what became of all of the people and the kilometres of cloth that was under the roof. The people who made their living there would of lost their entire inventory.
I am told it will be back up and running in a month so we go to another place down the street, that is more of a tailor shop than a market stall and after a great deal of discussion and bargaining as their prices are quite high, Darth Vader and Yoda will have their capes in a week! We walk a little further and the girls notice an alley that looks lively so we go to investigate. In a clearing at the end of the alley, there are many piles of material laid out on the ground in flea market style. The people are amazing here. They always find a way, to continue. To survive.
We find some material, do a bit of bargaining with some sign language and a little Chinese, then make our way to the food street, where I introduce the girls to my favourite stall, which has been here since our 1st year in Wuhan. It’s no bigger than a closet and is just big enough for a small woman and her husband to chop stuff up and deep fry it, standing shoulder to shoulder. They don’t really have anywhere to sit but they insist on giving us their low plastic stools and we sit, eating spicy chicken and pork strips with long wooden toothpicks as our cutlery. We drink bottled cold, sweet, green tea, found in a fruit stall nearby. We are lucky, it is usually room temperature as the Chinese are not fans of cold drinks. They think it is bad for your health.
It is now Sunday, a week later and John and I pick up the capes from the tailor, eat some delicious street food and walk a bit further to join ‘Art Street’, which is near Tailor Street. It is a very cool and pretty street. John has been here a few times but I have only been here once, with Don and Mieko.
We discover a music shop where I find lots of different ukuleles so I do some bargaining with the guy who works there and get a good price and enough ukuleles for the class I have agreed to teach at the Foreign National school. I will try to teach them how to play some basic songs on the ukulele after our fall holiday and I hope I will be able to play by then. My finger has healed but there is still a bump from what John thinks is scar tissue and I can’t press down on it without it being quite painful.
It is now Friday night. It is raining and the temperature has dropped from 35 C to 18 C. Tomorrow we leave for Bangkok and then Laos for our fall holiday week. Like old regulars, we are excited to go back to our fav hotel in Bangkok, sit by the pool, indulge in the weekend market, eat some fresh Thai street food and then hopefully discover something new when we continue on to Laos.