Tag Archives: life in China
Recently, Erika, Lindsay, Becky and I realized that we’ve been living
in the new apartments for more than 2 months now, but we haven’t had
much of a chance to get to know our neighbors. We decided it’d be a
good idea to try to have a pot-luck picnic with our neighbors now
that the weather is warm. We put together little invitations and
tried to personally invite all the foreign students and their
families who live in our building. There’s about 15 apartments total.
We had to explain what a pot-luck was, but I think they got the idea.
So, for dinner this evening we had a few meat, rice, and vegetable
dishes cooked Sudan-style (they said it wasn’t exactly Sudanese food
since they couldn’t get all the same vegetables here in China),
Sudanese bread, authentic Vietnamese fried spring rolls (they called
them something else, but that’s the best way to describe them),
Vietnamese candy, American potato salad, pasta salad, fruit salad,
cookies, and Italian herb bread. We all introduced ourselves in
Chinese and English or in which ever language we could speak, and
then introduced our dishes.
I’m probably spelling these names wrong, but I’ll give it a try.
From the left: Afra and her baby, Hannai, M..(something), Mohammed and his
son (all from Sudan), Huang and I forgot his name (from Vietnam), me
(from USA), Tong Yiyuan (from Japan), forgot his name too (from
Veitnam), Moatsim (from Sudan), Deng (from Vietnam who lives across
the hall from me. His wife and child were here earlier this year but
went back home for a visit), and Erika (from USA). Most of the men
are engineering Ph.D. or Masters students. The women from Sudan are
here with their husbands. We also have Korean neighbors, but none of
We ate and we talked (in Chinese, English, Arabic, and Vietnamese)
for a good two hours, until it got dark. All and all, a lot of fun!
Now I know my neighbors a lot better and you do too! I look forward
to learning their names better (its hard for me to remember names I’ve never heard before) and of course, getting to know them
Also, Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers!
The next hour it’s more of the same. I get to talk to the girl in the pink hat a bit more. She also gets questions from those around her. “Are you their guide?” “Are you their translator?” “No, I’m just on the same train.” “What do American babies eat?” “I don’t know.” “Why don’t you ask them?” She’s very patient, but I can also tell she feels tired. I’m tired, too.
The crowd does become more educated about how Americans care for their children: they get to see some diapers changed! Most Chinese babies don’t wear diapers. Instead, their pants have a hole in the back, leaving their tush out in the open. I’m not sure how the parents manage it, but one things for sure, the Chinese aren’t filling their landfills with diapers!
When I get back from the run to KFC, I get a text message from my teammates. They’re on their way to the train station for their 7 PM train and they want to know if they should bring us some dinner. So much for me trying to take the earlier train! We don’t need dinner, but one of them comes to find us and offers encouragement.
It gets to be 6:15 and the hour of our boarding is fast approaching. We gather our things together, but since we’re near the gate, we don’t bother to stand up. We figure the crowd will tell us when to move. Another announcement over the loud speaker is made (they’ve been making them the whole time, but because of the din, they’re utterly undecipherable) and the girl (I wish I’d asked her name!) tells us it’s another 10 minutes later now.
Our two friends on the 5:20 train call and tell us that their train is boarding soon, but that our train number is being displayed with theirs over their platform on the other side of the station. Our train has joined theirs. Are we in the wrong place again? We look at our platforms sign and see that our is still displayed, but so is theirs. Strange! But at least we’re in the right place.
The crowd in the aisle still has not moved an inch yet and it’s 6:50. The girl has realized this too, and tells us we need to be in one more aisle over. I ask a random person standing in front of my seat what train they’re on. A woman shows me her ticket … it’s a different train!! We are in the wrong place! I grab my backpack, purse, one of the mother’s suitcases and follow this girl with the pink hat. Weaving in and out and over, balancing and bumping, squeezing and pushing, and finally we’re there. Me, the girl in the pink hat, and one mother and one baby. But where are the other three? We can’t even see the crowd swaying as they make it through. It’s another minute or so until they make it out, but we can’t wait, this is only a quick stop for the train.
The ticket check lets me and the girl and the mother through the gate, we stand there on the other side and make sure the others are going to make it through. As soon as we see them through, we, the girl and I turn and hurry to get to the platform. She grabs one of the handles on the suitcase and helps me carry it down a long flight of stairs. At the bottom, there’s a number of people waiting for the train. How did they all make it here so fast! I look back up the stairs, and the figures of the 5 others are small.
This platform has two sides, there’s a train boarding on the left side, it’s not ours though, it’s the 5:20 train. There isn’t a train to the right yet. By the time the others make it to the bottom of the stairs I’ve seen which way we need to walk to reach our car. A sign above points right to car 1 and left to car 18. Our car is number 3. I say goodbye to the pink hat girl and offer profuse thanks. Her car is number 6.
The train starts to pull in and we start booking it. I try to watch the numbers on the cars as the wizz by from behind us. Number 13 passes us. I realize we’re practically at the other end of the train. Usually you can only board at your car – will we have time enough to get to number 3? I try to say back to the other women that I’m going to go ahead and so I can explain to the conductors to wait for the women with babies. Who knows how long they’ll stop. They’re already 4 hours behind!
As I speed away, I hear a thud and some gasps. I turn and see that the older woman has tripped and is lying forward on the platform. She quickly picks herself up and continues. At this point we’re at number 7 car. I turn and ask the young woman conductor(in some sort of Chinese), “Can we get on here, because we have babies?” Without a second thought, she lets us on. So instead of rushing our way down the platform, we squeeze are way through the narrow aisles of 4 hard-sleeper cars. The aisle is about 3 feet wide when no one is sitting in the fold out chairs, and 1.5 feet wide, when someone is. Sorry to all those people we bumped.
Finally, we make it to our seats, which are actually the bottom bunks of a hard-sleeper that have already been slept in. We each have one, but we crowd into two so we can sit together. The train still hasn’t started yet, so I guess we didn’t have to jump on so early or rush so fast … but better safe than sorry. 2 minutes later it starts up and we were finally on our way back to Ha’erbin.
“Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a place of poetical pleasures.” (G. K. Chesterton)
I don’t think that G.K.C. ever experienced the Changchun train station. I wonder what he’d say about it if he had. If he’d have been there yesterday, maybe he’d have seen the wonders of the cavern that were the foreign babies and the poetical pleasures that were distinctly Chinese. Good thing I enjoy Chinese poetry.
The littlest baby stays hidden in her mother’s arms for two hours. The other baby is like the main act in the three-ringed circus. Across from us, behind us, down the aisle, we (or should I say, the baby) draw attention from everywhere. The migrant workers laden with their belongings packed in rice bags as big as them simply stare. The young couples and recent graduates who have a bit of money take out their phones and take some pictures (usually they ask first). The older couples with their one child bring their children over to make friends. Another train boards through our aisle, meaning that practically everyone on that train gets a ticket to the circus.
Many ask questions and make comments, here’s a rough translation of some that we hear: “Are they twins?” “How old are they?” “They’re wearing so little, they must be cold.” “They’re used to the cold.” “Russians.” “Are you Italian?” “You look young.” “American babies are so skinny. Our Chinese babies are fat (which is a good thing in this culture).”
We answer some, we ignore some, we talk with some, and we talk amongst ourselves. Two hours go by surprisingly fast, and once again, the aisle fills up. It’s 5:15, there are still 30 more minutes until the train, so why is everyone so eager to line up? The young girl that our friend sent has stayed close by us. She tells us that the train will come soon and we should get ready. I look again at the display-board. Now the sign reads: 晚点：3小时30分钟. The girl hasn’t seen it, and so I point it out to her. “Oh!” she says with a sigh. She’s traveling to Ha’erbin to visit her grandmother, hopefully her grandmother has heard about the delay, too. And the line down the aisle, that’s for another train.
We also hear from two other women from Har’erbin who had a 5:20 train leaving from another waiting hall, there’s has been delayed about 2 hours also. At least we’re not the only one’s waiting.
At this point the babies have been fed and nursed (very discretely) but we’re starting to get hungry. Since we still have another hour and a half to go, I volunteer to run out to the KFC that’s right next to the train station. Leaving everything except for my purse and my ticket, I hop over the back of the chairs and escape from the circus. My steps are quick. It’s 5:25, and what if the train time changes back to 2 hours and 30 minutes? I think I can make it. I hope it doesn’t change. I make sure that my phone is handy, so I’ll be able to hear it if they call to tell me to run back and catch the train.
The KFC next door to the train station is busier than the train station. 10 lines. Pick a line, hopefully you get the fast one. I do get the fast one, where the fries girl is fast talking, and her job seems more stressful than a stockbroker’s. Before it’s my turn, I do a bit of language decoding so I won’t slow down her pace.
Suddenly, it’s my turn. I spit out my order and it must be comprehensible, because 1 minute later I have 3 spicy chicken sandwiches and some chicken wings. Time to make my way back through the funnel! It’s so crowded that I can skip the X-ray machine (don’t want to loose the dinner, anyways), and take some quick steps back to the waiting hall. It’s 5:45, and of course, they’re all still there, waiting. I forgot to order the fries though!