Souvenir of China

We’re doing our normal evening things which is very close to nothing. Suddenly, Bear really wants out. I know she doesn’t need out, but she WANTS out.

“What is it, Bear?”


“OK.” I open the back door for her and find the ground is now covered in white. Bear has smelled it, or heard the change that snow makes.

NOTHING makes us happier. Other things make each of us happy, but nothing else makes us ebullient.

It took living in California to teach me that while skiing is GREAT the best part for me is winter itself, snow. I like the cold. I love snow. In the recent “I can’t afford skis” break down, I remembered, again, that running through drifts with your dog is as good as it gets.

In other news (not that any other news matters around here) one of the writers of a blog I follow,  has been staying for a while in my Chinese “home town” of Guangzhou. In one of his posts, he said he wondered how it there was 30 or 40 years ago. As I was there 37 years ago, I shared a description of the place he was writing about. His pictures, commentary and our conversation inspired me to finally spent $70 on a slide digitizer.

I have many, many slides of my year in China and I made a film. The machine will help me digitize all of it. My blogging friend also said, “Maybe a book.” I’ve been thinking about that in the back of my mind, too, and listening to an album that came out the year before I went to China, Jean Michel Jarre’s Concerts in China. I bought this music on a trip to Hong Kong in 1982.

China was a different world in so many ways in the early 80s, but it had also been warped by Maoism into abandoning some of the things which had made China China for thousands of years. It seems that China had lain in wait, a sleeping dragon, beneath all of the Maoist strangeness (strangeness like killing all the sparrows, making steel in the backyard, destroying iconographic images, etc. We won’t talk about killing people right now. Oops. Blew that.)

I’m excited to start the project. I remember only a few of the images. There are a few I separated from the ‘mother ship’ (we’re talking about a Vogon Cargo Vessel of slides) and they became my slide show (who wants to sit through hours of that shit, right?) I have two MacBooks and I’m thinking of dedicated one to the slides. They will need a lot of memory.

If I were to write about it, there would be a few things that would only enchant a person who’d lived through the Cold War, such as flying on Aeroflots, but if I’m any kind of writer, perhaps I can share the enchantment of flying in a plane that does not just go forward, but shakes from side-to-side in flight. Scary, but meanwhile, I remember thinking, “I’m on an Aeroflot! An Aeroflot! Wow!”

In the last few years of teaching, I taught many Chinese students at San Diego State and came very close to running a program for them. The program never took off (unlike the Aeroflots) but it would have been amazing because it would have involved trips to China. The students? Well… Often it was great because I let them know about my own background and they felt more comfortable knowing they were with a professor who had lived in their culture. A couple of times students attempted to use the “Guang Xi” method of earning grades (bribery) but it couldn’t work with me. I had one student from my Chinese Home Town and our interaction was one of the best parts of my last years teaching.

I loved China more than I’ve ever loved anything except maybe the San Luis Valley. It took five years — or more — after I returned to heal that broken heart. I wish I’d stayed, but I had the idea that my marriage mattered (it didn’t) and my ex had hepatitis and couldn’t recover in China, so, at the end of our contract, we came “home.”

To my surprise, home wasn’t home. In China I’d missed the Rocky mountains, but as soon as I saw them, and saw they hadn’t changed while I was in China yearning for them, I regretted my return. It would never matter to the mountains how long I was away. Whenever I came back they would be here.

One of the things I brought back with me was a carpet, 2 m x 3 m. I bought it at the one export store in Guangzhou, a store next to the Bai Yun Hotel, one of three foreigner’s hotels in Guangzhou when I left. I spent my first night in China in this hotel, my first meal was there (joak, a kind of rice gruel), my first night’s sleep. The rug was wrapped and delivered to our apartment where it stayed wrapped for months, until it was time for us to return to America. I carried it on my shoulder through the airports in Guangzhou and Shanghai. It was nearly left on top of a baggage cart at the Las Vegas Airport when we changed planes from San Francisco to Billing, MT where my mom lived. I saw the car begin to pull away from the plane and I went apeshit.

It was like a movie. The stewardess came running to appease the crazy lady.

“It’s all right. We’ll send it on the next plane.”

“No you won’t,” I said. “Either it goes with me or I get off.”

My getting off would be a worse hassle for them than getting my carpet. They called the baggage guy and he came back the 15 or so feet and loaded the carpet.

Now that I think of it, the first night I spent in my Chinese apartment, looking out over the fields of the agricultural college that was behind my college, at the water buffalo in his shelter, at the mountain beyond, in the soft light of the tropical sunset, knowing I was finally there, on the brink of a great adventure — that was every bit as good as snow.

12 thoughts on “Souvenir of China

  1. The digitaliser sounds interesting. I could do with one as well. Can I upload the photos onto my computer afterwards? Congratulations on insisting on your carpet being on your flight. And I understand how you can lose your heart in another country. OK, Switzerland is not China, but it is my home and I could not imagine leaving to return to Britain – no way.

    • You can upload the photos to your computer. I haven’t gotten it yet but it also uses a little storage disk. I think it will work with a USB cable or via the disk. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll keep everyone posted.

  2. Sounds like a plan. You’ve experienced a pretty incredible life, Martha, with much to look back on and much to enjoy that is indeed memorable. Pretty fantastic in the grand scheme of things.

  3. A wonderful inspiration — I agree with Covert Novelist that your life story would make a great read — perhaps even in several segments ~ ~ ~

  4. We look forward to seeing at last some of your photos.
    The book, Wild Swans, made a huge impression on me. I contrast that with the plane load of Chinese tourists who cared for my nine-month old son when I was having a hypo on the plane (I was travelling alone). They were wonderful with him and he had the best time.

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