When we are home I don’t mind Manuel going away for a few days; in fact every so often I like it. The kids and I have special little things we do. And I generally put them to bed as close to 7 as possible and treat myself to chyc flicks and other delicacies. That is not the case in China. The act of having to fill the coffee pot with potable water from a slow drip 10 gallon jug made me totally crazy. When I got the news that Manuel would be hours and perhaps a day late it just about pushed me over the edge; the edge included so many hours of computer games for the kids that they must have lost brain cells and lots of cursing from me.
He did make it back from Beijing after an epic journey which included sitting on the runway in Beijing for nearly 5 hours. Apparently, the airport witnessed hundreds of flight delays yesterday thanks to torrential downpours in Guizhou and Hunnan. Once again the dissonance of a globalization style consequence—the delay of national and international flights—and the local consequences is gritty. My ire came from my husband’s flight delays after an international science conference and a trip to the Western grocery store. And, I used my newfound computer skills combined with a historians toolbox to figure out exactly what went on where. But thousands of people died and suffered serious injury because they lived in poorly constructed buildings, ran out of potable water, and simply cold not get shelter from the rain, wind and lightening. And they probably had no idea why and certainly did not have internet weather radars to feed obsessions.
These gravity of the rain situation remained unknown to us until the flight delays. It wasn’t quite dramatic enough to make the New York Times or CNN. And while I dutifully check the English Language Chinese news every couple of days it goes to great lengths to block anything at all unseemly or related to death from natural disasters. This angle of censorship seems especially ironic. At the risk of seeming trite when you reside in the part of China that is developing or rural the immensely destructive power of nature and the fragility of human bodies sounds loud and clear. Late afternoon heat without ac literally stifles the breath, and the noise of torrential rain pours in bamboo houses or on those with tin roofs deafens. Meat comes with blood, guts, feathers and every other part that reminds you that dinner came from someone breaking the neck of your chicken. And the sale of gobs of blood makes this even clearer. The town doctors office resides in an open air room so severe illness and even death vigils occur in public spaces. Children get antibiotics through IV’s—as in they can be seen walking down the street with an IV pole.
Manuel did make it back quite late last night and he came with a suitcase full of Western delicacies; mostly importantly the five chocolate bars which he knew he’d need to gain entry back into the house. With the wild Harvest Tomato Sauce, pita bread, and mozzarella cheese I made pizza in the wok with pita bread with the kids scarfed in three seconds. Apparently the 5lbs of cheddar cheese caused some trouble at Beijing Airport security and involved a security official sniffing it, wrinkling his nose in disgust, and then shaving a slice off and running it though a special bomb-sniffing machine. At the Kunming Airport they were concerned, instead, with parmegiano. Ironically, as I was getting ready to go for my first run since Manuel left the kids asked “aren’t you making us anything for breakfast, pancakes, Tibetan flatbread.” My quick retort was “are kidding me? Daddy took two planes and a bus to buy you corn flakes and shredded wheat. fix your own breakfast. And start thinking about Eggo for when we get home” I also asked them to report my super mom feats to their father, hoping they’d talk about exciting walks in the rainforest or the family project of constructing a play kitchen for Eli out of boxes. Instead they reported that I had made them wear helmets which made them look silly and that I said “look I can’t keep an eye on you with Eli on my butt.” It’s true I said it, and everyone under eleven remembers it. And that sentence had already gone through the parental censorship process.
My favorite report from Beijing involved a text I received from the wife of Manuel’s colleague. It said, “The boys went to a hookah bar.” Admittedly I only know what Hookah is because we have one in Cville at a place that plays great music and serves good salad. And I think someone smoked it in the movie Around the World in Eighty Days. So it seemed weird but not the weirdest thing we’ve encountered here. She then called a few moments later to say that she had been concerned and alarmed. She is Chinese and did not know the word hookah and thought her husband had said Hooker. She knows that western men traveling alone still frequently answer their hotel room doors to find hookers offering their services.