Lisa McClure's China Diary

Our new bicycle
Lara and I with our new bicycle. Notice my cool, new haircut!

Courtney arrives on the train from Beijing

Bonnie and Bronwyn at the train station
First glimpse of Bonnie and Bronwyn on the Jinzhou train station platform

Meeting Bonnie and Bronwyn

In front of the Jinzhou train station
Jackie, Professor Wang, and Allen in front of the Jinzhou train station

Helping with the luggage
The girls' arrival was greeted with great enthusiasm

Bonnie, enjoying apricot pie

Bronwyn, our newest foreign teacher

Courtney greets Jinzhou with a smile

Allen and Diana
Allen and Diana



Lara McClure
Lara, enjoying fresh apricot pie during a summer heat wave

Lisa McClure
Me, with very short hair, and a somewhat surprised look on my face.

on the #11 bus
Taking the local bus downtown for a shopping expedition

Jinzhou Train station
The #7 bus terminus - note the bicycle parking lot on the right, and the Jinzhou train station in the background

Bonnie and Allen, getting to know each other

Bonnie, gluing stamps onto her envelope at the post office
Bonnie, gluing stamps onto her envelope at the post office

A confab - agreeing on the translation of a difficult term

July 31, 1999

We've having a busy summer in Jinzhou! First of all, I decided to teach an intensive summer English course, and invited several American students to come to Jinzhou to intern for me. Three girls arrived two weeks ago, and ever since then, it's been a whirlwind of activity around here, with plenty of visitors and lots of great conversation and outings.

The English course started last week. We've got about 16 students so far, with a wide range of ages and abilities, but all with a keen interest in improving their English. We divided the group into two classes, and working in teams, we've been working about 4 - 6 hours a day with them, Monday - Friday. It's definitely a boot camp situation for us teachers, preparing and presenting so many hours of lessons per week. But the course will only last seven weeks, and the enthusiasm level of the students is very high, so we're pretty psyched about it, and working well as a team.

This last weekend, a bunch of our favorite students and we decided to take a trip to Xing Cheng, and sleep overnight on the beach. So, we bought some snack foods and water, borrowed several tents, took the summer blankets off our beds, and set off on the train on Saturday morning.

Xing Cheng is a Ming dynasty walled city, about 15 minutes by taxi from the Bohai Gulf, and is located about an hour southwest of Jinzhou, on the train line towards Beijing. Trains run about every hour, though the quality of the various trains varies considerably. The train we caught was not one of the better ones, and we ended up standing the whole way in our Hard Seat car. But the windows were open, and the fans were running, so it wasn't too bad!

There were twelve of in the group, 5 of us Americans (including Lara). After we arrived in Xing Cheng, we exited the station onto a large square dominated by a statue of a Ming dynasty general who saved the town from some invaders, and negotiated for two mini-bus taxis to take us out to the beach.

The road to the beach terminated in a very festively decorated circle, the entrance marked by a large stone gate and a number of vendors. We bought our entrance tickets (3 yuan apiece) and walked down a broad avenue, again lined with small booths selling souvenirs and an enormous assortment of dried fish and other dried seafood.

The beach was was nice and sandy, but not all that large, and completely packed with people. The crowd thinned out a bit at the far end, so we walked down and pitched our tents above the high tide mark, then changed into our swimsuits.

One thing that I've learned in the four months that I've been here, is that being able to swim, or not being able to swim, is a source of real interest and importance to most of my students. Those of them that can swim are very proud of that ability. Those that cannot often are filled with an intense combination of fear and yearning. And a surprisingly large percentage of my students cannot swim, including a couple of people in our group. But the sea draws everybody into the water, so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that lots of people drown every season along China's coasts.

However, at Xing Cheng, the beach is incredibly safe and shallow for a long distance out, and there were plenty of vendors renting inner tubes. It was a tough trek to even get out far enough to find neck deep water, and the vast majority of 'swimmers' were happily floating in their inner tubes in about knee deep water.

And the water was delightful, a perfect temperature, with gentle waves and a sandy bottom. Lara brought her plastic cooking toy set, and happily settled along the shore with another little boy to play for the afternoon, while I floated out, enjoying the sunny coolness, or felt for and picked up hermit crabs from the sandy bottom with my feet.

Back on shore, vendors sifted through the crowds, selling bottled water, and all sorts of foods - icecream bars, boiled corn on the cob, all manner of seafood. Beggers, most of them elderly, also visited us regularly, standing quietly by until some donation (or a cigarette at least) were handed over.

After playing most of the afternoon in the water, Lara and I visited the shower tent on the beach. The price (5 yuan) was pretty steep for access to a cold water tap, but worth it to me to wash off the worst of the sand and salt. (Lara didn't agree, but despite her screaming, I was able to get her a little bit hosed off as well!)

We all ate outside at a restaurant on the concrete embankment right next to our campsite, then strolled along the beach after supper. There was a short term crisis in the evening, when it started to rain a bit, and we realized that with only three tents and 12 people, we had a bit of a logistics problem.

You know, in China, there is a pretty distinct separation of the boys and girls. Even in Lara's pre-school, boys and girls stand in separate lines. So, there wasn't a lot of possibility that we would be able to organized overcrowded co-ed tents for sleeping. But luckily, after a little while the rain stopped, and a couple of blankets were laid outside, and everybody caught at least a few hours sleep.

But then, too soon, a gentle voice was telling me to get up. I didn't understand why until I stepped outside, and saw everybody standing, facing the warmest hint of glow in the east. Sunrise! I had forgotten its importance to Chinese tourists. I shouldn't have, as I've been dragged out of bed at inhuman hours twice before to view the sunrise.

All of China is on one time zone, so the sun rises around here pretty early. (around 4:45 am these days) I've seen many, many sunrises, and as I could tell that the low clouds on the horizon were not going to make this one particularly impressive, I settled down on a blanket to wait its eventual arrival. But I did learn this morning as least one reason why viewing a sunrise is such a special treat for Chinese tourists, when one of my students, Lily, told me that it was the very first sunrise that she had ever seen! I never thought about it before, but here where we live, in Jinzhou, there are very few unobstructed views of the horizon, and most people live in fairly crowded areas with lots of other buildings surrounding them. And even though we are very close to the sea, many people rarely, if ever, actually go.

As a result, this simple activity (and after 15 years of squinting my way to work through enforced sunrise viewings, it's difficult for me to think of them as very interesting) has special meaning for Chinese tourists, and helps explain why so many of them will set out in pitch darkness, just so that they can view seaside sunrises, and mountain sunrises, etc.

After the sunrise, nearly everybody fell back asleep for another couple of hours slumber. Then, we all got up, packed and returned by public bus to the train station. The ticket home cost almost double the ticket out, (10 yuan) and when we climbed on the train, we quickly discovered why --- air conditioning and lots of empty seats! It was delightful, and the trip passed quickly.

Tired and filthy, it was as pleasant to get home again as it had been to go. Lara's adrenalin gave out and she lost consciousness on the bus home, and was put into bed dirty. I retained just enough energy to strip and thoroughly wash before I joined her, around 11 in the morning, for what turned out to be a four hour nap!

So, that's how Lara and I spent our weekend. It was a lot of fun, with great company, and we can't wait for our next outing in China!

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