It’s New Year’s Eve in China. At 3:00 p.m., enthusiasts began lighting fireworks, though out the evening will increase in frequency until midnight, when for a brief instant, the sky will light up in a kaleidoscope of color and cacophony of noise, when all of China sets off their fire works at the same time. I wish I could see a picture of this from space. For a moment, China would be transformed into a dynamic watercolor painting of shifting hues.
The Chinese New Year’s celebrations are to the Chinese as Christmas celebrations are to most American Christians. There are lots of traditions, family and friend gatherings, great food, and vacation time. The city is silent. Most taxi and bus drivers are at home with their families. Only the most enterprising are available for hire even on New Year’s Eve.
Invited for dinner at a friend’s house, we ate a traditional fare of fish, pork, meat, and vegetable dishes and then settled in to watch CCTV1 and the national show celebrating New Year’s Eve with pageantry, comedy, traditional music, opera, and modern music. It is a compendium of culture, and it is beautiful to watch.
I love the United States, but I must admit that China’s culture shines best on New Year’s Eve and it is a delight to behold.
Mei Wen Team visits homes of rural student recipients of China Service Ventures scholarships
Our goal today is to make two home visit evaluations in Long Jin Township — a 60 minute bus ride north of Xinyang. It is cold outside (-4 degrees Celsius).
It is market day in Long Jin. The narrow streets are congested with activity. Freshly slaughtered goat, pork, chicken, and fish hang from hooks on cross bars erected near the both sides of the road. Vendors sell everything from clothing, tofu, vegetables, kitchen wares, and seeds and nuts. Buses, cars, taxis, mopeds, pedestrians all fight to squeeze through the bottleneck. The sound of horns blaze incessantly urging all to clear the way. Read More
Her name is Hawa. She is a native of West Africa, but holds a State of New York issued identification card. She speaks in a way common to English speakers of another native language — understandable but heavily accented by her mother tongue. She looked young, around 19 years old.
My wife and I met her in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, terminal one, at 6:00 a.m. on the mezzanine level opposite the ticketing gates and security checkpoint. We all were sleeping on the floor.
We had checked in at the Frontier Airlines electronic kiosk where we paid our luggage fees and printed our boarding tickets. There were only two agents working the desk and a long line – our first hint of trouble. When we moved to bag drop, there was no streamline process for bags, only the one long line, and it was not moving – our second hint of trouble. After a 30-minute wait, we made it to the counter, but we were too late by 2 minutes. We had entered the 45-minute before departure zone and our flight was “closed.” We were given a number to call, asked to step away from the counter, and left to our own to figure out our dilemma. After another 15 minutes on the phone and $180 in change ticket fees. We had a flight home.
At the same time, a young woman who had been left on her own at the airport was trying to figure things out, too.
Hawa had three pieces of luggage: two to check and one to carry-on. Her husband, whom she met online and recently married, lived in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She married for love, but he married for her green card. When he could not achieve his objective, he packed her up and dumped her at the airport with no way home and no money.
Then bottom line to her story was that although she had a potential ticket home (her mom would pay), she had no money to pay the luggage fees. She had three suitcases which represented her entire life. She was stuck. She was hungry and she was sleeping on the floor of a airport, just like us.
What would you do?
Well, my first thought was that she was scamming us. Her story seemed bizzarre — green card fraud, online marriage arrangements gone sour? Other facts also seemed incongruous — she wore nice clothing, had a working smart phone. She had no driver’s license, but she had a legitimate identification card. Why didn’t her mother purchase her ticket AND luggage fees?
My problem was that I was recently returned on home leave from China. Living as a foreigner in a new country without native cultural intelligence (knowing how to get things done in a culture), and speaking broken phrases in an attempt to make oneself understood in a non-native language made her story plausible.
And, there was no denying the look of hunger and desperation in her eye. Even online, internationally arranged marriage for green card status was conceivable — a friend suffered the same.
I, too, many years ago, at her age was stranded in a German train station with no money. A thief had stolen my money and plane ticket, while I naively dozed on a train station bench unawares. A elderly German couple took a chance on me and invited me into their home. It was safer than spending the night in the train station, they said. And, they added, there was something in the look in my eyes that suggested my story was true, even though I spoke in haltingly in German.
So, we went with Hawa to the American Airline ticket counter and confirmed that she indeed had a booked flight to New York. We paid her baggage fees, shared a Salted Nut Roll that we always eat when traveling — kind of a tradition – and waved goodbye as she went through security.
We hope she arrives safely home to family and that she will help another person, one day, in a similar predicament.
I have a Supor brand electric water kettle that developed hard water deposits on the inside, which scrubbing could not clean. My Chinese neighbor knew what to do. She put a little soy vinegar in side and used a steel wool pad. It cleaned the deposits right away. A little soaking took care of the rest. Love home remedies!
There are some things I am not accustomed to seeing like a handcart (wheelbarrow) strapped on the back of a motorcycle. Note the hand poles. They are hard to see, because they are painted brown. They are sticking out.
In fairness, I have seen oversized loads like piping and construction supplies sticking out of trucks in the back in America, but normally they are secured length-wise with straps and an identifiable caution flag. This cart was strapped down width-wise with no flag. It seemed like an accident waiting to happen.
I understand that villagers make do with what they have. I just hope he didn’t have a long way to travel.
Once I saw a man carrying a 10-foot ladder balanced in his hand while riding a motorcycle. He was riding in the city. I wasn’t quick enough to snap the photo. You will frequently see dump trucks filled to the brim with gravel and sand. A little jostle or bump often sends the truck’s loose contents onto the road. Trailing vehicles beware!
China is just a different country with a different set of traffic rules. Most drivers consider themselves to be careful drivers. Most motorcyclists wear no helmets. One thing is for certain. There is never a dull moment on Chinese roads.
It has been a while since I have seen this in America, a woman plucking her chicken for the evening meal. She has a pair of tweezers in her hand. My grandmother did this on the farm. This woman was in the market village square, among friends, conducting business as usual.
It makes the chicken meal more delicious knowing the work that goes into the meal.
Every summer camp the first item of business is to mop and disinfect the floor of the cafeteria from mildew. High humidity and the tropical climate creates an ideal environment for mold to grow. Vigilant care must be taken to disinfect with cleaning chemicals that actually kill mold, a feat not easily accomplished, since the mildew embeds itself in the pocked concrete. We mopped with brooms made of cloth strips. Fortunately many hands makes for light work. We are at full compliment as a team — 38 people.
We are hiking Jighonshan today with a group of Americans who have gathered in Lijiazhai to help staff an English Camp for 350 children over the next 5 weeks.
These camps are sponsored by China Service Ventures (www.chinaserviceventures.org) and run by Mei Wen, Inc. (a social enterprise organization) in Henan, China. They focus on serving children at risk from rural villages with economic hardships and absent parents.