Tuesday, January 13, 2004

China Trip: Jetlag and sickness

Two things about today: We spent a lot of time at the school where we will begin to teach tomorrow, and I’m not handling jet lag very well. I took a too-long nap this afternoon because I was so tired, and now I hope I’ll be able to go to sleep tonight. I still feel tired and sick and dehydrated and I don’t know if I’ll be ready to teach tomorrow.

(Note: We weren’t supposed to take a nap at all, because in order to get over jet lag, the idea was to embrace local time as our own, and not go to sleep in the daytime, no matter how hard it was to stay up. I was feeling so sick and miserable though, that nothing anybody could say would deter me from having that afternoon nap. I asked Marie to let me sleep for an hour, so she came to wake me up at the allotted time, but it was absolutely unthinkable to me to even make the attempt to wake up. I slept another two hours, and then we were supposed to go back to the school cafeteria for dinner. At first, I thought a van would come to pick us up, but so many of the students decided to walk, that I had to walk, too. I lagged all the way, feeling worse and worse, and feeling less and less like eating. My senses must have been a little more acute than usual, because with every breath I took, I could smell the smog and pollution, or the cigarette smoke, and it was torturous. Rachel was very kind and walked beside me, to support me, but by the time we arrived at the school, there was no way I was going to eat. My stomach hurt, I had a terrible headache, I was cold, I was congested… a LOT more than usual. I was wheezing and it hurt to breathe deeply. I knew I couldn’t let anyone know that, because they would instantly think SARS, while I knew I didn’t have SARS, I was just dehydrated and needed a little rest and liquid and I would be fine. Michelle Childers and Mr. X noticed that I wasn’t eating, so I explained the fact that I get like this when I’m dehydrated, and I tend to easily get dehydrated when I travel, recalling to them the time I went to Niagara Falls and felt the exact same way. Michelle understood but I wasn’t sure Mr. X did.)

I had so many new experiences today. My first one was a shower in pitch darkness. Marie was using her hairdryer and suddenly all the power in the room went out. I still had to take a shower, so I went ahead and did it. I’m used to greatly reduced vision in showers, due to not wearing my glasses, but I’m not used to having to feel for the soap.

Then we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Wow. Talk about interesting. I didn’t know what half the stuff was, and the other half (other than eggs) was what I would consider dinner. Peas, corn on the cob, rice, things like that. I eat SO slowly with chopsticks! Hopefully I’ll lose weight while I’m in China!

Some vans came after breakfast to take us to the school. We weren’t going to teach, we were just going to meet some of the officials and talk about teaching the next day. Boy, is it an adventure to drive in China!! People, bicycles, and little motorcycles are everywhere! Nobody seems to be afraid of cars. A bicycle will be out almost in the middle of the road, a car (us) will come up to 2 feet behind it, beeping its horn, and the person will not even turn their head or move over. Cars are weaving back and forth into the other lane, people are milling around, disobeying traffic signals, and confusion is rampant. You really have to pay attention to drive here! Cars frequently cross a double yellow line in the face of oncoming traffic to pass. Also, if you want to make a left hand turn here, you don’t put on your turn signal and wait for a break in traffic. You just pull out in front of all the cars and expect them to slow down for you. Police cars always seemed to go very slow (probably they went the speed limit!), and people who were stuck behind one would get very frustrated. They would tailgate the police car and pass him at the first possible opportunity. I saw that happen quite a few times while I was there, but I never saw anybody pulled over for any reason.

Shops, alleys, and markets are crowded with parked bicycles instead of parked cars. The view outside our hotel window is that of another building and a long row of diagonally parked bicycles. Bicycles do take up a lot less space!! Very few of them are locked. Mr. X at the school said that the inhabitants of Pinghu are very peaceful people.

We learned a lot of other interesting information from Mr. X, too. This is the first English camp of this type to come to this school, and even to the entire city of Pinghu. The province we are in is one of the two richest provinces in China. In addition to the 500,000 occupants of Pinghu, another 80,000 commute here to work.

We got a tour of the school, which was very interesting. Some large pine trees were planted in a central location. Our tour guide said these were supposed to be the most beautiful part of the school, and it is hoped that one day the students will be able to decorate them as Christmas trees. There were also sayings posted up on buildings in large, gold letters in English and Chinese. “I pledge to love and honor my parents.” “I determine to study diligently.” “Never, Never, Never give up; always have hope.” Evidently these concepts are very different ones to the Chinese. They don’t love or honor their parents. They don’t even know them, as many of them are sent to boarding schools at very young ages. And before that happens, “there is a little emperor in every home” (the child). Studies are extremely important to the Chinese, but we were told that few of them really work diligently at it. Most do not like it and are forced to comply. Copying of others’ work is rampant. They also give up too easily. Many students in China commit suicide because of some test scores. These concepts and sayings make this school a different kind of place.

At lunch, I sat across from a Chinese girl and showed her my pictures. She especially liked the one of our family at Miner’s Rock, so I let her keep it. She seemed so happy, it was like I had given her a hundred dollars!

The food tasted good, but I got way too much to try to eat at one time. Plus, it takes me more than twice as long to eat with chopsticks! I get this tiny little portion in each bite (how much food can you balance on a chopstick??) and half the time it falls off and I must pick it up again. Which brings me to another question. Is Chinese food here the same as that at Chinese restaurants? No, it’s much saltier and oilier. It depends on who is cooking, but sometimes you get a dish that is about like ocean water. Or…ocean water with an oil spill? Never tasted that, though. Anyway, I really don’t want to demean their cooking, because our hosts here are going FAR out of their way to be generous and kind to us.

(Note: The previous comments were not representative of all the food we ever ate. I think that again, the cause was due to my heightened senses and sickness that it tasted so strange.)

After lunch, we met back at the third floor conference room, and that’s where jet lag started to hit me. My eyes were telling me it was the middle of the day, but every other part of my body was telling me it was the middle of the night. I started to feel very sick and tired and cold and miserable. Derek LoVerde was passing out Chinese Kit Kat bars, but I refused one, saying, “No, I don’t want to get sick.” Mr. X noticed this and asked, “Are you feeling okay?” Instantly my guard went up. “Uh Oh. DON’T get sick in China. Who knows what might happen to you!” And I didn’t know if I could trust Mr. X. So I roused myself and tried to look bright and alert and said sweetly, “Well, I think I’ll be okay. I didn’t feel too well on the plane, and I’m a little cold right now, but I’ll be fine.” I knew I would. Water was all I really needed. I was drinking some hot water in a paper cup right then, and I held it up and smiled. “See? This is warming me up.”

Not long after, the opportunity presented itself to either go back to the hotel or write emails. There were two computers available, so there promised to be a waiting line, and one thought only was foremost in my mind. “HOTEL! BED! SLEEP!” I stumbled into my room, scarcely hearing Marie trotting after me exclaiming, “No, you’re not going to take a nap! That won’t help you get over jet lag!” I flopped into bed, mumbled, “You can wake me up in a little while if you want to,” and was fast asleep almost before Marie finished saying, “I’m going to jump on you if you don’t watch out!!

An hour later she called, “Bekah!” and the jump came. I woke up just enough to open my eyes. I mumbled, “Hi. Thanks for getting me up. I guess I’ll try to get moving,” and rolled over and promptly fell fast asleep again. I didn’t get up for about two more hours. Marie came in a few more times and tried unsuccessfully to rouse me.

Supper was going to be at the school cafeteria, and Marie invited me to walk to the school with her and a group that was going. I didn’t feel up to it and said I’d wait for the car when it came. I was ready to leave about ten minutes later than I was supposed to be ready. Marie and her group had already left for the 10-15 minute walk to the school. I walked out into the lobby and saw Jeddy and Galen at the counter for exchanging money. They were the last ones and said that the car wasn’t coming to drive us over there. I had to walk after all. Considering that I still didn’t want to do anything but lie down, and standing up was hard enough, walking was that much worse. By the time I got to the school, I couldn’t imagine eating anything. Mr. X became more concerned than ever and brought me some hot water to drink. This I was glad to accept and thanked him profusely. After dinner I learned that we would all be walking home as well. My spirits sank, but I determined to stick it out and manage it. Rachel walked with me and that helped. Back at the hotel, we had some meetings (I was half-asleep for all of them) and at 7:30 pm I went to bed without even bothering to take off my coat or gloves. (I did kick my shoes off, in case you were wondering.)

Next Post: First day of English classes
Previous Post: Arrival in Shanghai
First Post: Pre-departure excitement

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