Wednesday, October 14, 2009

something there is that doesn't love a wall

I'm not sure what Robert Frost was talking about. The greater the wall the better, I always say. And it doesn't get any greater than The Great Wall itself. It was almost embarrassing telling people that I had lived near Beijing for 10 months and had still never been to the massive wall. But now the monkey is off my back and I'm a real man, according to Chinese culture. "不到长城非好汉" bu dao chang cheng fei hao han. “He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true man.” My classes were all impressed when I spoke it to them, after I had unbuttoned my dress shirt to show the meaningful "I CLIMBED THE GREAT WALL" shirt I was donning underneath. The Great Wall is truly massive; it stretches nearly four thousand miles, and we only hiked on it for five hours. Some of our hike was devastatingly steep, like a ladder, but those inclines were mostly climbed the night of our arrival, either dimly lit by the setting sun or by our fluorescent headlamps. Our second day on the wall was generally easy, save for a few breaks in the Wall that we had to surmount. Oh, by the way, we slept on the Wall. That's right: on it. Our menu for the trip included: tuna sandwiches, homemade Chinese chex mix, Great Wall brand red wine, donuts (actually called 'donitas'), and a tiny Snickers bar (thanks, Kerry!).

That was the most eventful part of my National Day holiday, a weeklong break in classes to celebrate new China's 60th anniversary. There was an ornate parade and military exhibition on TV that I missed; I was wasting my time watching a Redskins game instead (Dan Snyder has made a cuckold me, of all of us). But I did see the replay. President Hu JinTao stood presidentially out of an open sunroof of a black car as it rolled past all of the formations of soldiers and workers and humungous missile launchers, shouting, "Hello, comrades! You work too hard!" The regiments shouted something back about it "being for the people" after Hu Jintao's exclamation.

Speaking of holidays, I've got another five day break in class coming up including this weekend. I'm off to Beijing this weekend to cheer Ryan on as he runs the Beijing Marathon; then it's back to school for a two day "Sports Day," during which I will cheer on more runners (I'm not ready for primetime yet).


As Tim chronicled on his blog, we got mopeds. We set out to buy full-blown motorcycles, but after learning the specifics of Chinese motor law, we down-graded and bought the next best thing. My bike will go 50 mph if I push it, which originally sounded like a con to me, but after driving in Chinese traffic for a month, it's definitely a plus. I'll just say that the traffic here is a little wilder than in the US and speed is the least of my concerns, another reason why you'll never see me riding without a helmet. The new experience of driving in China has taught me some new Chinese words, but just as in the states, I always have to learn the hard way; for example, the difference between the words, chi you and chai you: gasoline and diesel. Even after seeing my buddy, Cameron, make the mistake of filling his bike with diesel first-hand, I misunderstood the gasman at the gas station and successfully puttered out on my way home a week ago. It was in the exact spot Cameron's bike broke down. I admit, I let more than a few expletives fly behind my yellow-tinted face shield as I walked it home. Thankfully, I was only about a mile away from home. A couple days later one of my friends from Tim's school, Kevin, came over to help me fix my bike, syphoning out the diesel and adding some of his syphoned gas into my bike. It turned out to be a good excuse to hang with him. We found out that we have something in common: our futures our uncertain. He graduates this winter and will look for a job in the south. If this is my last year in China, I'll head back west to find a job, really far west.

Kevin's not the only student I might not see much of over this next year. My good friend Jack from last year is now in Beijing, toiling. Vince might go back to his hometown a couple hours to the north after this semester to find work. And who knows with Robert; we've already had a handful of goodbye dinners for him, but he always seems to come back to Baoding. The reality of my time here is unsettling; it truly is but a breath. And yet that breath is invigorating. Each moment is an opportunity to trust in the "future grace" of our Father. Thanks, John Piper!

But now for something completely different:

Look closer... that's right, those are cigarettes in the grabber machine. Life is beautiful, isn't it?