Thursday, October 6, 2011

Off to Beijing! . . . with Two Unwanted Accomplices

On Saturday morning, at the wee hour of 6:00, the bus came by to pick up Beth and I, along with some coworkers, and cart us off to the airport.  It was time for our teachers' conference in Beijing, an event we've all been looking forward to, even if it did cut into our week-long October holiday.  Travel is always a bit hectic, but in my case, there was the further complication of "Eustace and Puddleglum" -- the crutches I've been hobbling about on since Wednesday.

Wednesday was an exhausting day -- so exhausting, in fact, that I am sorry to admit to having a rather negative attitude towards the mandatory dinner that new staff had to attend after school.  While I appreciated the constant care offered to us by the school, I felt smothered at the time, and really would have preferred a quiet evening of leftovers on the couch with Beth.  The heavy rain and the fact that I left my umbrella at school did not improve my mood.  The dinner was delicious, prepared by a very sweet Korean couple from school, but I was so deeply entrenched in my unhappy mood that not even food could cheer me up.  Standing in the rain with the Braces (the couple that I traveled to China with) for more than half an hour waiting for a taxi after dinner and getting soaked continued to make me secretly cranky.  It was oddly fitting when I slipped on the slippery tile sidewalk on the way home and sprained my ankle . . . and then repeated the performance the next morning in the foyer.

I went in to see Dr. Ruth, our school nurse, shortly after she arrived at school on Thursday morning.  She examined my swollen ankle, wrapped it, and sentenced me to a week of crutches.  With our school being full of staircases (I teach on the third floor), crutches and a sprained ankle made my week end on a completely exhausted note.  It also meant that three of our staff were now on crutches, leading students to speculate about a possible curse.  Nitta broke her foot when her sink fell on it a few days before my injury, and a second grade teacher, Karen, had a knee injury weeks ago (followed by surgery while we were in Beijing).  Fortunately for me, the rest of the staff and my students were all quite sweet to me, carrying my lunch tray for me, moving obstacles out of me path, and even helping me up the stairs.

We had a pretty uneventful flight to Beijing, although it was a pretty cramped ride to the airport (one staff member had to ride on the luggage because there wasn't a seat).  All of our luggage made it, and I managed not to wipe out while disembarking from the plane (it probably helped that Vickie was assisting me).  We arrived at our hotel in a short amount of time, and were thrilled with how nice it was -- the softest beds I've ever seen in Asia, for one thing!

Since the conference wouldn't start until that evening, a group of us headed off to Beijing's Dirt Market, a really cool place with minority artisans sell their wares.  It was tough having to do my exploring and shopping on crutches, but it sure beat staying alone in my hotel room, so I grimaced and bore it.  We split up into twos, since you can't bargain effectively if you are in a larger group of foreigners.  My friend Jane (not the same Jane who is married to our head principal), principal of our new Early Childhood Center, opted to go with me.  We have similar interests, so we had a great time together.  We got matching jade bracelets at unbelievable prices and each picked up a piece of art (a painting of cherry blossoms for my bedroom and a painting of the ocean for her office).  We had lots of fun looking at the unique crafts and antiques.  After the Dirt Market, we all headed (and hobbled) off to Peder's, a fantastic Mexican restaurant, where I had the best milkshake I've had in years (mmmm, Bailey's!) and chicken/beef enchiladas.

The conference itself was quite interesting, and even inspiring at times.  I only had one session disappoint me, although I did later wish that I had gone to more of one woman's sessions, as I found hers to be the most helpful.  One of the focuses was on fine arts, and I got some great ideas for further fine arts integration in my classroom.  I also went to a really interesting seminar about women in the UAE, which made me even more thankful to be in China!

There was so much to do in Beijing that even without crutches I would not have been able to do as much as I wanted.  I decided that sightseeing should wait until I have two good feet (or at least one good foot and one sullenly-behaving foot), so I did not go to the Great Wall or any of the cultural sights that I long to see.  I instead focused on making some necessary purchases for improving life, such as a pair of Uggs to get me through the upcoming Chinese fall and winter (with my Renaud's Disease, cold weather is horrible).  I managed to bargain my way down to a great price on a beautiful new purse (apparently, I am much better at bargaining here than I am in Mexico -- I guess I've gotten more stubborn in my "old age").  I got to eat at the best Indian restaurant I've ever been to, I had a horrendously crowded IKEA experience, and I got to meet up with all of the friends I made at PFO and find out how they were adjusting to their respective cities.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the oddest and coolest part of my trip to Beijing:  I ran into a girl from Galesburg, Michigan, which is remarkably close to my hometown.  When we started talking, we discovered that her home church was one of the five that supported my high school!  She turned out to know several people that I went to school with.  Then, just to make things even odder, we met another girl who currently lives in Guam and works with a girl that I went to high school with and that my Galesburg friend went to church with!  Talk about six degrees of separation!

A large group of us, including two of the three cripples and several babies, traveled on the same late flight back from Beijing.  When the bus (that picked us up from the airport) deposited the last of us by the back gate of our apartment area, our head principal and his wife decided to shove me into a wheelchair and give me a ride back to my building (since I had nearly fallen down the stairs when disembarking from the plane earlier, I think they were motivated by practicality as well as charity).  Dave suggested to Jane that she let go of the chair while we were heading downhill, which meant that my not-quite-runaway wheelchair (Jane was running behind it) nearly took out dear Tien (wife of one of our school counselors), who was pushing her son's stroller.  Tien is, fortunately, an agile jumper.  We made it back without further incident, and I gratefully collapsed into bed shortly thereafter (it was a little after midnight when we got in).

Although Beijing was a fun city to visit, it is not nearly as friendly or as uncrowded (by comparison) as Qingdao, and quite frankly, you could not pay me to live there!  I had a great time, despite the ankle, but I am really glad to be home!

1 comment:

Chari said...

Hope your ankle heals up soon!

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"