couple of days in particular have been bright, sunny and warm - warm
enough for T-shirts, so yesterday I went to Lanzhou with Erika. Todd,
the replacement for the replacement for Mike was going to come but
decided that as he's only been here a week he would be better spending
time working. Aubri, the new teacher out at the Experimental School
also decided not to come.
They missed a fine day out. We started late because on Friday night we
were out with our local friends celebrating Erika's birthday. We
started with a meal, at seven, and then went on to KTV until around
eleven. Apparently after that, on her way home, Erika was called by
another local friend and went off clubbing for several more hours. An
indication of how well she celebrated her birthday might be that,
after a long and fruitless search, she eventually found her apartment
keys behind the chocolate cake in the fridge.
Anyway, we took the bus to Lanzhou and went over to the same park that
Mike and I visited a few months ago. I liked it then but this time it
was even better. The sun was shining and the concrete walls gleamed
white as marble. The tops of the fence pillars had been covered with
crumbs and seeds, presumably to attract the birds, though no birds
were in evidence - either scared off by the crowds or hiding from the
We climbed the hill slowly. Every few yards there was someone else who
wanted to have a picture taken with us. At one corner there was a
group of five teenage girls who delayed us for more than a quarter of
an hour as individually, collectively and in every combination in
between they insisted on being photographed with each of us.
The park was amazingly busy. Families picnicked on the grass, groups
of elderly musicians sang and performed in the pagodas, at the tables
outside the top-of-the-hill cafe people played Chinese chess and
mahjong while small children dodged between the legs of both tables
and patrons, chasing each other on lively games.
At the Buddhist temple half way up the acrid smoke of incense hung in
the motionless air. The lack of wind has a downside. At each new turn
we looked back across the Yellow River towards the towers of the city.
They rise between the mountains like an enormous game of Sim-City but
the thing, on this glorious day, that was most noticeable was that
they were made indistinct by the pollution that plagues the city. The
irony of the bright sunlight is that it reveals the pollution all the
more clearly. The mountains that rise behind the buildings, no more
than a few miles away, were almost invisible in the haze.
All the same the walk was a pleasant one: climbing easy paths,
chatting with children and teenagers, smiling at the stares of the
adults. A thoroughly enjoyable day that we rounded off, as you would
expect, in Pizza Hut, before heading home on the last bus.
Today has been just as glorious. When my tutorial students rang to
cancel their session I was rather pleased as it gave me a chance to
head out for a couple of hours in the park. I took my writing with me,
intending to sit and work on some partially completed poems or perhaps
begin some new ones.
I meandered up the hill and sat under one of the trees and took out my book.
I had written about two words before I was interrupted. Two boys, aged
about eight roller-skated up to me and said "Hello". The bolder of the
two asked me a stream of questions. My name? My age? My country? Do I
like China? And I in turn asked them some. His more reticent companion
stood looking at his feet and only joined in when prompted in Chinese
by the first boy. They stayed for about fifteen minutes and then
This time I managed about a dozen words before they were back with
fresh questions, having consulted in Chinese about what they could
ask. Do I like animals? What is my favourite animal? Do I like Chinese
Eventually the skated away for good and I started again.
This time I was interrupted by a couple in their twenties. The girl
wanted her photograph taken with a foreigner and her boyfriend was
happy to take the picture. They sat down on the grass with me and
talked. The boyfriend had very good English and also some French,
which will come in handy as he's in the process of trying to get
permission to emigrate to Canada. The girl had, or at least used, less
English but joined in from time to time. At one stage he revealed that
he was on his first date with her - the park is a popular place for
lovers' trysts. I wanted to know why he was wasting time talking to a
random foreigner when he was on a first date but he assured me that it
was her idea and she nodded her agreement.
By the time they left me the sun was getting quite low and the air had
cooled off to a point where it was becoming uncomfortable to sit in my
T-shirt so I headed back to the apartment to have a go at writing my
poetry in a less pleasant but less disturbed location.
If the weather keeps up I may go back to my regular post-class strolls
around the area, but I shall probably not be trying to write again.