Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

China 1999 - Part Four

A few weeks later I was completely adapted to the Dongping way of life. At the same time I was more or less accepted by the people of Dongping and was carrying out my research, interviewing managers, conducting observations and trying to interpret the data. Life became settled again and I enjoyed it.

07.00 am
Without relying on an alarm clock I managed to get out of bed between 7 and half past seven in the morning. Believe me, this is really noteworthy for I am certainly no early morning lover and in natural conditions I get up between 9 and 10. The worst part of this time of day was to get out of a warm bed knowing you couldn’t turn on the central heating to stay warm. Therefore, the first thing I did after quickly dressing up, was walking to the power station of the factory, where fresh hot water was available, to fill two thermoses with it. This was my central heating for the first two months before spring brought more comfortable temperatures. Then I would make the famous Chinese green tea and drank it as hot as possible. After drinking two or three cups I warmed up a little to only then think about the next step in my morning routine, which is, washing myself with a plastic bucket of warm water. After that I had breakfast and worked a little bit on my research or conducting an interview.

12.00 noon
One of the two best parts of the day! I had lunch at the factory’s restaurant in the only room that was heated. Together with the warm lunch I finally would get really warm and sleepy. Because in China many people have a sleep in the afternoon, I did so too. From 2 till 6 pm I would then work again.

07.00 pm
At half past six I would take my Chinese bicycle and cycle to family Wang to have dinner. Family Wang, consisting of grandparents, parents and two children, became my substitute family in China. They owned a little restaurant, where I had dinner every night. At first prices were fair, but later on prices went down and down to the level that locals pay. Family Wang had two servants, the sisters Liu, who more or less also belonged to this extended family. All were very friendly and we had many good times. After having my dinner together we would watch the news on TV; first the national news, then the provincial news, and after that the local news. Because China has an one party system and because the media are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, we saw on the national news high cadres planting trees to save China’s environment (erosion, which devastating effects I had seen in Datong), subsequently we saw provincial cadres planting trees, to finally watch how Dongping cadres planted trees.

One thing, as a Dutchman is supposed to do, that I found most interesting during the news was the weather at the end. Due to our Dutch variable weather, the Dutch are always discussing the weather and ‘nice weather isn’t it?’ has become synonymous for ‘hello’. On the other hand the Chinese found my obsession for the weather odd. Chinese weather is stable 90% of the year, so talking about the weather means something quite different, that is, ‘I am bored with you, so I now discuss the weather’. I must have been quite arrogant according to the Chinese when I discussed the weather with them… Sorry, but at that time I didn’t know. The main reason I watched the weather forecast with more then average attention was because I was waiting desperately for spring to come, bringing me nicer temperatures.

After dinner, I went out to do some shopping, visiting a friend or write a letter to family and friends. At that time the Internet didn’t exist in Dongping. Due to the bad financial state of the Hemp Mill I also didn’t allow myself to make long distance calls to the Netherlands and even the fax I used rarely. Every Saturday my, then girlfriend (now wife) would call and that was it. In February 2005 I will visit China for the fifth time, and this time again for an extended period. Things in China have changed dramatically. I will have no problem using the Internet, just downloaded the Skype free internet telephone, will bring a digital camera and a webcam with me to be maximally connected with the rest of the world. I must say, it doesn’t sound so romantic anymore to go fully wired and connected to China. To be an anthropology student doing a research in the middle of nowhere certainly is romantic. It must have been a similar feeling as anthropologists and explorers had a few centuries ago. But, for me, times have changed too. As a professional consultant, making the last preparations to fully engage in business, that is the Chinese language course I will do for one semester at the Beijing Language and Culture University, I can’t afford to be that wondering student anymore. I am a wondering consultant right now and that is slightly different. The similarity of my next trip with my first trip in 1999 is that China keeps amazing me and that it always teaches me.

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