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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Few Small Changes

By Johna Ferguson

To all of you who have read some of my stories about China and have commented on them, I appreciate your interest. Now at 81, I look a little differently at China than I did when I was just 52.

Then I didn’t know what to expect or really how to act. I am sure at first I seemed just like another brash American and I soon tried to soften my ways, but I know I still have some rough corners which my Chinese husband reminds me of now and then.

I find it still difficult to be stared at. There are some workers from the countryside working on the house next door. Yesterday, I went out in the yard to hang up the laundry and you would have thought I had no clothes on or maybe two heads. I smiled at them, but they quickly turned their heads as though they’d been caught at something.

Then today, I walked to the neighborhood post office to buy an envelope and stamp for a letter to the states. You see, you must have a special envelope, can’t use any of your own or a local type envelope.

This station serves a large neighborhood so one would expect they would have everything one wanted. They had no overseas envelopes so instead, the clerk stamped “air mail” on regular Chinese ones. Then it costs six yuan for a stamp.

The government prints stamps in that amount, but this station never gets any so I had to buy a combination of three different values. When I went to pay, I handed the man a 10 yuan note (US$1.53) but he didn’t have change so he went to two other windows in the station where you pay electricity bills or invest in the postal savings plan but they also didn’t have change so a man standing in line behind me made change for me so I could finally pay and get out of there.

While out, I wanted to buy some grain for the magpies but the shops that were in one place last year are not in the same place now so I had to search for a small hole-in-the wall shop selling just grains of all types.

I found the millet I wanted, at 3.4 yuan a jin, whatever that means. I just grabbed a plastic bag and filled it with how much I wanted and it was 8 yuan.

Then I wanted to buy a small roasted chicken for our lunch. I looked and looked but couldn’t even find the very small grocery shop that was my favorite before.

Finally down a block I found it, but the chicken counter was closed as it was only 8:30AM. I wandered around and finally stopped a friendly looking woman and asked her, in my broken Chinese, if she knew where I could buy chicken. She pointed down the block so I went down but found they only had live chickens for sale; I wasn’t up to that chore for sure.

Finally on another street I found another small grocery shop and their chicken counter was open and the price was okay.

Now all I had to do was walk back home, about five blocks, but all uphill on a wide brick paved walkway with stairs every now and then. Living at the top of a high hill has advantages - great views, nice breezes - but it’s often hard getting home.

If I buy a lot, I take a taxi home as they can easily climb the steep dead-end road we live on. Their prices have also risen, now costs 11 yuan for nearby places (US$1.11) but that’s still cheap in my book. I could come up another way from the street below, a winding 92-step climb up the side of the hill; too much for carrying anything except myself.

I noticed that today was colder than yesterday, 72F, and foggy most of the day but the heat will not be turned on by the government until November 15th and by then, I’ll wear long-johns, wool knee socks and a couple sweaters - but then, so does everyone else.

When I sit and type at my computer or in my rocking chair reading from my “Nook,” I often have a hot water bottle on my lap to ward off the chill. We have hardwood floors, no rugs and a crawl space below the house so I wear down booties also. But I still love it all.

Because Zhou is old, 84 by Chinese counting, 83 our way, his former students always stop by and visit with him and they all bring fruit of some kind. One brought a watermelon, another grapes, another bananas, etc. so I don’t have to shop for it.

We drink bottled water; I think the bottle holds maybe five gallons and a man comes on his motorcycle with it whenever we call him.

I usually dump the garbage. The cans are down the steep road half a block away. We don’t sort garbage, but the trash people come by and buy paper, glass, etc. so there is not much garbage but true waste.

This year, both sides of our dead-end, granite-stoned street are filled with parked cars each night. Seems all our neighbors now have cars, Buicks, Toyotas and lots of big vans. Oh how things have changed.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thank you for sharing your life in China.I enjoyed your story. It sounds like a good and simple life but it must be frustrating finding simple errands so inconvenient.I wonder if you miss the USA. I think I might if I lived there permanently.

Thank you for generously sharing stories about your life in China. It’s very exciting to get a bird’s eye view of how people live in a place I’ll never see.

I am so impressed by your ability to adjust to the customs and situations around you. Thank you for sharing.

I always look forward to your tales of life in China.It is so interesting,and,as Claire Jean said,it is a place that most of us will never see.

Your story reminded me of when my friend's daughter and her husband and 3 little children were transferred by a large company to Tokyo.

Being from a large city herself (London) the young woman thought it would be easy to find her way around but she was hopelessly lost the first time she ventured out in her car with the children.

She knew she would never find her way home so she called a cab. When he came she showed him a letter she had received so he had the address. He nodded that he knew just where that was and to get into his cab.

She shook her head "No" and told HIM to drive there and she would follow in her car.

How else would she get her car home, she thought. So he drove to her house and she followed him and all was well. Wasn't she smart?

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