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My two anecdotes in China

By James R. Ely (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2011-06-01 09:03
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The mystery has been solved

In China guards supervise the entrances to all public buildings, apartment and housing complexes, universities and shopping centers. They are usually friendly, and most of them wave to me now. A few even come out to shake my hand when I pass their stations. I often have wondered, "What is their function?"

My two anecdotes in China
James R. Ely [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn] 

Recently a university colleague and I visited my friend Marvin Wu in his 24th floor office in one of Qingdao's downtown high-rise towers. After we left the building, I discovered that I had left my hat in Marvin's reception room. Because it was on the 24th floor, the elevator is slow and we were in a hurry, I decided I would retrieve my hat another time.

Today it is overcast and quite cool. Andy, one of my students, called me this morning to see how I am doing. He said, "Oh, Mr. Ely, the weather is not very optimistic, but we are always happy." The weather certainly was "not very optimistic." I went out to shop and discovered how much I missed my hat. I thought, "I will stop by Marvin's office to pick up my hat first."

The elevator was exceptionally slow in Marvin's building. At last I picked up my hat, but I had to wait on the 24th floor for the elevator. I leaned against the wall and rested during the long wait. At last the car arrived, and I rode to the ground floor.

I was wearing my brick-red Chinese jacket and my blue hat as I walked out of the building. When I passed the main guard, he said something to me in Chinese. I understand little of the language and none of what the guard was saying. I smiled and said, "Zaijian!" and walked past him. He rushed up to me, spun me around and held me firmly by the shoulders with both of his hands.

Can you imagine the thoughts that rushed through my mind as he yelled to the three other guards to join him? I had just listened to a radio account about a young American teacher who had been arrested and sentenced to three and a half years in a South Korean prison.

By this time the four guards had surrounded me, one still holding me firmly by my shoulders. The other three guards began brushing the back of my clothing with their hands. They didn't release me until they finished brushing off the dust and dirt that had stuck to my clothing when I had leaned against the wall on the 24th floor.

Now I know what guards do. I love these people!

A Pleasant Ride Home

One May morning, while teaching at Qingdao University, I went to Jusco in Qingdao to purchase ink cartridges for my computer printer. After buying the cartridges, I went to the bus stop in front of the store to catch a bus back to my university apartment. I usually catch either bus 31 or bus 316, but neither was in sight, so I took bus 322. As I entered the bus, I asked the driver in my broken Chinese if the bus would take me to Qingdao University. The driver nodded, smiled, closed the door and started the bus. The bus was full. I got the last seat a couple of seats behind the driver.

After rolling about a half mile on the usual route, the bus turned right. Soon we were driving along the shores of the beautiful Yellow Sea. I thought, "This is the most lovely route. I should take it more often." After a while we passed the new yacht basin where workers were setting up the Fourth China International Marine Fair. The bus stopped periodically, and people got off. Eventually I thought, "I wonder when the driver will turn left to my university." Still we drove along the seashore.

At last the bus turned left. We drove only a short distance when it stopped again. The woman in front of me got off. I turned my body in the seat. (My broken and fused neck doesn't allow me to turn well enough to see much around me.) I discovered that other than the driver, I was the only one on the bus. I started to worry.

The bus started again and turned right. We drove through a gate and into an enclosed yard filled with Qingdao city buses. The driver turned to me and said something in Chinese. I responded, "Qingdao University." The driver started to laugh, struck his forehead with the palm of his hand and motioned to me to get off the bus. He took me to a bus where a man stood and talked to the man, who also began to laugh.

The man opened the door of the unmarked bus, motioned me to enter and have a seat. I tried to pay, but he wouldn't allow me to do so. The new driver started the big empty Qingdao city bus and drove about six kilometers to my university. He opened the door, grinned at me as I climbed down the stairs of the bus, waved "Zaijian" and drove away.

Tomorrow I shall to go the Fourth China International Marine Fair. I know what bus to take.

The cost of my bus fare for this trip? Three-fourths of one RMB or about eight cents. That includes my senior discount!

I love China!

The author is from Washington State in the United States. He taught in Xi'an for a year and at Qingdao University for four years.

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