Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fire, Water, and Food Poisoning

Mark said if he had my students he’d quit. I know my kids aren’t as bad as some of the ones in Lincang, but they’ve been getting worse lately. Last weekend Nate tried to shove his way into my room to get a cell phone I’d taken from him, yesterday Miguel reached into my bag to try and take back a jacket I’d grabbed, and on Monday there were flames in my classroom, courtesy of Harry. I’m not sure what he set on fire, but I screamed at him about it for quite some time.

I see metaphorical fire a lot these days. These kiddies really know how to push my buttons, and when I’m trying to do things, like, y’know, get them ready for what is sure to be a very difficult final, I don’t appreciate needing to take so much time for classroom discipline.

Last week, I almost caught my blanket on fire. It was touching my space heater, and I didn’t realize until it started to smell like something burning, and I realized it had a nice big brown spot on it. Oops.

I got a new bucket. It’s a beautiful thing, lightweight and with a sturdy handle, large enough to hold a lot of liquid without being so big I struggle like a small child trying to fill a sandcastle moat when I lug it from the taps to my room upstairs.

With this bucket, I only have to fetch water once a day or even once every other day. My big water bucket, the one that lives in my room and holds at least 5 gallons, has been fuller than usual of late (although not tonight, as the water taps seem to have been shut off). The first time I used my new bucket, I was able to fill my big bucket almost to the brim, and I felt giddy—rich. I never thought I’d feel that way about a bucket of water, but when my big bucket’s full I feel at complete liberty to do laundry, wash my dishes with as much water as I’d like, wash my hair and face, and make tons of tea. When it’s not so full, I’m far more careful.

There’s almost always some form of water available, and, when boiled, everything’s safe, but the other day when I got water from one of the taps that links up directly to the lake (instead of one of the two that come from the spring), it was tan and included chunks of stuff. So, safe perhaps, but when I’m not on a camping trip I don’t really wanna drink it. A couple months ago I wouldn’t have. Now I just boil it and do anyway, looking forward to the return of spring water to my life.

From the time I was small I’ve known that water is a finite resource, but I never saw it quite so clearly until now, when it doesn’t come from a faucet in my room, when every time I need it I have to go get it from somewhere. Granted, I’m not going to a well or anything like that—there are still taps where I can draw it—but it’s not quite as eternally present, and it’s not nearly as convenient.

I never drink cold beverages here. Maybe once every two weeks I end up buying a bottle of water, but the rest of the time it’s tea, tea, and more tea (and occasionally hot chocolate, thanks to my American packages). I also drink a lot less than I do at home, something I’m working to rectify. I’ve realized that I’m getting dehydrated, but I also don’t at all appreciate going to the bathroom in the cold.

Food Poisoning

“你要牛奶吗?” (Do you want milk?) Malijun asked in an upbeat tone.

I stared at her, and, not even bothering to use Chinese, replied, “Oh God no.”

It’d been a rough 12 hours. The day before that exchange I noticed during my afternoon workout that whenever I had to be on my stomach I felt kinda gross, but I thought it was just because I’d had a snack not too long previously and should have waited longer before exercising. However, I didn’t eat anything after about 4:00, and at 9:30 I was feeling tired enough that I went to bed. An hour and a half later, I was puking my guts out for the first time in recent memory.

After a very rough night on both ends, I got up the following morning hoping to feel well enough to teach, but I barely made it from my bed to my couch (all of three steps) before collapsing onto it. I knew I needed to go tell my banzhuren (lead teacher) that I wouldn’t be able to do my 9 o’clock class, but the prospect of changing into jeans was just too daunting. I stuck my feet into my flats and prayed that one of the other three CEIers would be around and could walk over to the academic building for me. Malijun came to the rescue, and I went back to bed.

Several hours later I stepped out of my room into the winter sun, feeling much better indeed. I still hadn’t eaten anything, but I’d been sipping on lukewarm tea, napping on and off. Malijun, who happened to be outside as well, said I looked like me again, which I took to be a good sign. I told her I was feeling much better than I had been earlier, even though I didn’t feel ready to eat yet. That’s when she offered the milk, which is apparently considered a good “sick” food in China and which made me want to vomit again. I told her that in the States you usually drink lukewarm beverages, especially clear sodas like sprite and ginger ale (the latter, alas, a great rarity in Heqing), when you feel stomach gross. It was an enlightening conversation for us both, I think, made more so when she offered me an orange. Again, not something I wanted to try to digest. Cultural differences really do amaze.

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