Thor's China Diary


@1 July 2000
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Do you know he feeling, the sense of ending and beginning, before worlds change once again? For a teacher it comes often, when the exams are done, the classes past. Two hundred and fifty exam papers marked, the handshakes, the farewell banquets. Last Friday, my accumulated bits and pieces, two years worth, were packed and sent by sea - a cubic meter, six large cartons. I marvel at people who can live their lives with nothing more than a toothbrush and a change of shirts.

At 6 am on Monday 3rd of July a black limousine will be waiting outside. While the city sleeps I'll be spirited out to the airport, and on a plane to fabled Urumchi. Five hours flying west, racing ahead of the sun.

The big mailout was a theater production, Chinese opera at its most baroque. The first appointment was Friday afternoon, three weeks ago. A truck came, but China Post hadn't thought to bring any boxes (and they will only accept *their own* boxes). "Throw your stuff in the back of the truck and we'll pack it for you later", the waiban cheerfully translated. I said something rude about pigs flying, so they went away. The second week was canceled for some obscure reason. Then several days ago, six boxes appeared, together with three identical forms for each box. These elaborate forms were in Chinese and *French* (OK, a snack for worldly Canadians and Continentals, but what about the rest of us..). Name & address of sender and addressee also needed in marker pen *twice* on each box. You'd be amazed how long it takes to write your name and address forty times.

Well on Friday the truck came again, with a man to carry the boxes, and man to watch the man carrying the boxes, and a woman with a leather folder to watch them both. Then there was the really important fellow who tailgated the truck in an air-conditioned post office Willie's Jeep. He was there to take the waiban and me to the post office, where all the essential things had to be done, like checking my passport photograph. At the post office was a sort of reception committee -- at different times I counted eight bodies, including a post office interpreter. (That last bit was a wonder - the Chinese post office is a place of terror for mere English users. Staff are unable to recognize anything written in latin script, including their own language).

The post office interpreter expressed various noises that sounded like contrition. Because the packages were going by sea, not air, she explained softly, we actually had to use *different* forms, giving a complete inventory of the boxes, and written in *Chinese characters*. I'm a patient man (well, sometimes), but  about this point in the vaudeville something snapped, and I uttered some very rude words in broad Australian. Then I smiled sweetly, and the reception committee exhaled in unison with audible relief. Foreigners are so excitable. The waiban soothingly offered to transcribe the forms into Chinese -- next Monday. We had already promoted employment for eight persons and two vehicles over three hours, a day's work, as I must understand, and a fine contribution to China's prosperity it surely was.

 "Departures"  copyrighted to Thor May 2000; all rights reserved
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