The wind feigned apocalypse, knocking down rows of bikes so if your field of vision was exceedingly narrow it would look like the city had been long abandoned. We needed a good thick layer of that Gobi Desert dust that covers this part of the world every once in a while swirling across to Korea to age everything that’s outside immensely.
I ducked into a courtyard for shelter, grey brick, very neat, only to be accosted for money. “Ticket! Ticket! Ten kuai!” The man wasn’t young and when I nodded my consent he shufflingly beckoned me into the guardhouse. The sign listed the variety of prices one could pay for the privilege of this courtyard (and house, I learned) from Free for retired cadres to 10RMB for me. He tore the end off the ticket himself. It was a pretty, quiet place, very clean. Obviously I’d be hard to lose while the wind pushed through beyond the walls.
This was the restored former residence of John Rabe, the Good German of Nanjing. I liked how in one of the photos that was the title of his diaries or his biography or something, but in all the rest he was the Good Man of Nanjing. And really, he was quite a man. An “unremarkable businessman he turned to heroism” or something similar is how one card put it. There were phtos of his achievements, a case for his medal (the card said it was the medal but the box was closed – I assume it wasn’t actually inside) he received from the Nationalist government for his work saving people in the International Safety Zone during the city’s rape. The house/courtyard that made up this small museum held 600 refugees, some of whom needed personal defending from charges they were de-uniformed soldiers. It was a big Western style house but not 600 people big. There were pictures of him with his Nazi flag (carefully labelled as NDSP or whatever the acronym is) that kept them from being bombed by the Japanese.
He had a rough time after the war getting de-Nazified. The museum stressed he was only a member of the part to get funding for some school or something, he wasn’t a Jew-killer or anything. There was a poem in the airraid shelter about women and kids getting the centre seats while the men should stand around them. The poem called the listener Curly in a sort of affectionate way. I don’t know what the original language of the poem was, Chinese German or English. The English had a singsongy rhyme to it so maybe that was an international concession. Is Curly a Chinese nickname?
The second floor held a shrine to Siemens (the company Rabe had worked for) and all their fine products. A strange ghostly blown up picture of Mao and his buddies from 1950 when China and Germany began official relations sat on one wall. That room had no mention of the countries being enemies in WWI (or WWII). They’ve always been One World One Dream.
I ate well yesterday. Sweet meat sacks for lunch at the place where the employees (almost) all wear their green smocks. I sat in a row of people and gobbled them down quickly, dropping only one or two into my sauce bowl. Old ladies sat to my left and then a business man with a plate of rice and vegetables. They asked how much his food cost and seemed impressed with his six kuai answer.
Out in the lane just to the north as I’d approached the restaurant were four women with identical twin baskets on shoulder poles sitting on the ground (the baskets not the women – there was a guy in Chengdu wearing an excellent fedora who sat on the wheel well on the bus without any newspaper to keep the dirt off his ass. He was part of what seemed a family group. They all carried shopping bags filled with yoghurt). The baskets were filled with mangoes. When I left 20 minutes later they were gone and only a cop car remained.
I saw more mango ladies scattered through Xin Jie Kou in the evening when we went to satisfy Holly’s dream of eating Papa John’s pizza. Some of them were on the steps leading to the underground. We’d left the apartment early after an afternoon of sitting and talking about our various cousins. Holly was wrapped in blankets after a nap but still feeling a little sick. I perched in a huddle on a chair, as is my wont. We killed some time up in the Suning looking at the cutest computer in the world plus some Apple products. The MacBook they had was running Windows XP. Oh China.
Pizza was good though low on sauce compared to my preferences. I felt bad finishing it but Holly said her dream had a lot more to do with the first bite than the last piece. She felt the employees had a good working relationship compared to many restaurants she’d seen.
And then it was off to Zhi Mian where Myrrl’s friend was giving a talk that ended up lasting two and a half hours. He discussed psychology and family run businesses I think. Hong Tao did the translating and everyone asked good questions. I guess. I hung around outside that jam-packed room with James talking cameras cats and comedy. Holly said she could hear us laughing sometimes. James is a pretty cool guy. He wants to be doing work at Chuan Da in comparative literature dealing with Sichuanhua writers and those of the American south, talking about languages of exclusion instead of just local colour. But. Chuan Da doesn’t have anyone who knows American Southern literature. So new plans are being formulated. And as always he asked what I might be doing. I did tell him about maybe going to Japan, and my theory that I’ve got a good number of characters for learning and not too many to freeze out the Japanese sounds etcetera. He didn’t laugh in my face at my naivete, so that’s a plus.
I was telling Holly my fear that going to Japan to teach in a place I’d have to shave and wear a suit and possibly even a tie might be giving up the freedom of my expectationless life in Winnipeg at the library. That somehow not wearing whatever I feel like would compromise me deeply. She doesn’t think I should worry about that. But wouldn’t she say the same thing if I were saying I was getting a PR job for some company in Canada? I hate how I feel like everyone is always lying to me, telling me only what I want to hear. This is why, I think, I hate telling anyone what I want. As soon as you make that known there’s no way you can possibly achieve/acquire it. To go back to an overused and misunderstood analogy, the cat’s both alive and dead until you check. Until you say something and let everything sort itself out into truths and lies.
I learned yesterday that Xiao Meng’s brother was really expecting me and her to hook up the other evening. He bought fancy 15RMB cigarettes because of it, which his sister made fun of him for. When Holly first got here she and Zhao Xing weren’t together and her other roommate tried to fix Holly up with a cousin in Beijing who “makes lots of money and speaks really good English.” Holly had to explain how things didn’t work like that.