Recent Observations

No power on Shida Road/在师大路没有电: Shida Road, nestled adjacent to the old campus where a number of our local haunts are located, and restaurants, cafes, and shops we frequent, has experienced several power outages in the last few weeks.

I thought about this in the context of an article I read at least a year or so ago about energy troubles or shortages plaguing many second and third-tier Chinese cities. We, on campus, have only had one or two unexpected power outages, as the Foreign Affairs Office usually informs us if the power may go off for whatever reason. Any time it’s happened, it’s an hour or two. We did experience about a dozen occasions of the school shutting the water off, sometimes telling us ahead of time. One or two of these instances resulted in no water for three or four days.

We also dealt with several bouts of the school cutting the internet off, particularly around March 2011 when political hoopla required the school to do so. They managed to blame construction and waiting on a new cable from the southern city of Kunming as their excuse. I’ve strolled in other areas of Xi’an 西安 and encountered a power outage or two, especially in communities where the local government is pushing for the residents to leave. These are areas usually referred to as ‘villages.’ We had one situated opposite the intersection of Shida Road 师大路 and South Chang’an Road 长安南路 until the government declared YangJia Village 杨家村 unfit and tore it down.

Traffic/堵车: Recently coming up in a discussion with the Italian teacher at Xi’an International Studies University 西安外国语大学, where I’ve taught for the past four years, we both noted the increase in traffic during off-peak hours. She teaches at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music on Thursdays heading there a half hour before two in the afternoon; in the last few months she noticed how a ten-minute bus ride began to swell to twenty or more. On most occasions when I take the bus downtown, a fifteen-minute ride has morphed into sitting or standing for thirty. ZJ, needing to take the bus instead of his regular bike ride because of a sudden downpour, sat for thirty minutes between two stops, where normally five minutes suffice. The traffic has little to do with accidents, albeit a regular occurrence, and more to do with more cars on the road. Xi’an sees 2,000 new licensed drivers every month, although not every new licensee owns a car. I think this has also contributed to the worsening pollution, as we’ve, oddly enough, lucked out with regular rainfall.

Tuhao/土豪: These drivers, or Xi’an in general, is rising in affluence. Rather than just a handful of luxury brand cars: Mercedes, BMWs, Ferraris, and Audis to just name a few, one in five vehicles falls under that category. I’ve named the category “土豪,” because the nouveau riche are normally behind the wheel or accelerating said change.

Encounters: Running into acquaintances can be a pleasure or hinderance. I’ve never minded running into students on the old campus during the weekend, mostly they are here to take the IELTS, sign up for an exam, or take care of paperwork. However, a couple of weeks ago, on my way home from grabbing street food for dinner, I ducked into the campus supermarket to grab a milk tea. I was startled when greeted by a group of four or five of the freshman from my Language Analysis and Correction course.

“What are you doing here,” I curtly said.

“Oh, we are going to Peter’s.”

Peter is the other foreign teacher in the Translation and Interpreting Department. He lives in the same stairwell, up one floor and to the left (we do not communicate as he decided to excommunicate himself from any correspondence with XISU foreign teachers, even going so far as to not respond to a passing greeting). As the students were headed my way, I walked with them, deciding I’d graciously let them in. (I’ve been wary of letting anyone, other than my neighbors, into the building after a thief made off with one of our bicycles.) Peter showed up, that being my cue to hastily make an exit, walking briskly back home. Though this was the last instance of seeing them, I heard them reverberating through the uninsulated walls of the apartment until they trampled down the stairs, heading back to the new campus. I can’t condemn Peter for inviting students over as I myself did the same my first year; however, I invited all my students, hosting several classes and preparing dinner with Tine and Isabella’s help. I won’t say too much more on this topic as I’ll end up sounding like a grouch or an uppity individual.

On a lighter note, I ran into a former Chinese colleague from the Tourism Department on Thursday at my 夹菜夹馍 street vendor stand on Shida Road. 杨老师, or Stephanie, was picking up a fried then grilled veggie and meat sandwich for her son. She accepted my hug, we conversed momentarily in Chinese with her complimenting my progress, and I switched to English. In a matter of minutes, we covered pleasantries, work, both of our future plans, my wedding and congratulating one another on our most recent achievements. This encounter reminded me of how I miss these colleagues as they were genuinely interested in chatting, caring, and inquisitive, yet adhering to boundary regulations.

Ironically enough, in the process of working on this entry, whilst at a cafe on Shida Road, I’ve run into another Language Analysis and Correction student on her way out of the cafe!

Manifesting the notion of a “Small world”: In congruence with the last category of observation, I’ve noted how small the world continues to get, even when based on the other side of the world. Several weeks ago, a curious email from a New Jersey resident living and working in Lintong (the town, by Chinese standards, where Terracotta Warriors call home) appeared. She regularly visits Xi’an so we vowed to meet up. Two Saturdays ago, we met for lunch at ZJ and I’s noodle haunt, 面片面馆, walked around downtown, visited the Bell Tower bookstore, spending most of the time retelling tales or recounting similar experiences from our lives in China.

During my third year, my next door neighbor also happened to hail from New Jersey, albeit we weren’t in the same age bracket as the previous “small world” encounter.

Students say the darnedest things: Although I could recount many noteworthy thoughts uttered aloud by my students over the four years, a recent one exemplifies how students sometimes have no qualms about embracing a direct communication style. A Language Analysis and Correction student commented on my attire when I walked into class on Friday. I wore a summery dress of bubble gum pink, bright orange, and sunflower yellow accompanied by my mint green slip on H&M sneakers, topped off with a white cardigan embossed with brightly-colored flowers tied around my shoulders.

“Teacher, are you going to the beach?”

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