Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mud and Trafic violations

Manuel left for three days in Beijing today. I will attempt to stay out of trouble. Yesterday’s infraction came in the form of a moving violation for I think speeding through a construction zone going the wrong way on a one-way street. The purple hot rod clearly transforms into a trouble machine when used for early morning market trips. The crime escalated when I didn’t realize that the three cops were actually yelling at me. I assumed that the yelling could not possibly involve me. After all I am merely a petite mother of three ambling along on a no-speed bike to the market. I forgot that I’m far from petite here—in fact I tower over the policemen. And I forgot that the garden has rigid traffic laws for bikers and pedestrians during peak tourist hours. So, they chased me down on their more powerful no-speed bikes, stopped my bike and pointed frantically in the other direction. I smiled and apologized in Chinese and eventually made it to the market where I stocked up on chicken, veggies and steamed buns dim sum style.

The bigger trouble involved mud. On Tuesday it rained all day and I t sent the kids outside to do a water experiment—how long does it take a tropical rain forest to fill up a giant bowl? These are all children of field biologists so they never miss an opportunity for outdoor experiments that are messy and potentially dangerous. In addition to studying the environment the Dad’s share a certain macho “I fight with venomous snakes and go to places without potable water to do my science” attitude. As far as I can tell they were all in Bornoio in the 80’s and at the last collective dinner I tuned out when the talk turned to wild Rhinos.

But I digress. After the water experiment they decided to experiment with the destruction of mud balls. And then when science got boring they started playing cave man in the torrential down pour that came complete with the kind water/mud puddles that were literally up to their shins. I admit that I encouraged the whole thing; bringing them supplies and enjoying some quiet moments with yet another poorly written Chinese murder mystery. Two hours later they were covered literally head to foot in mud and for some bizarre reason had taken to turning the electrical pole into a mud hut and had carefully covered it with mud from the ground to as high as their hands could reach. I next heard someone yelling at them in Chinese. A few minutes later Manuel arrived home to find four children caked in mud apologizing in Chinese, one mother yelling at her kid, one mother cracking up and a third looking completely bewildered. (The bewildered was me and yes I made my kids apologize in Chinese) The next door neighbor informed me that the electric pole is basically live and that the last time someone touched it in the rain they got electrocuted—hence the yelling. The other Mom and the nanny were explaining in multiple languages that this was what kids always did in their villages and it was ok. Manuel began hosing down the kids.

Meanwhile I was feeling terribly guilty for having encouraged this and my guilt magnified as I watched the maintenance guy laboriously carry pink bucket full after pink bucket full of water over to the road to clean it. The kids of course offered to help, which seemed like it could only make things worse. The downside of living in the middle of a tourist garden is that even though we inhabit the so-called private/staff area, an aesthetic of the pristine presides. So every morning the garden is full of people sweeping the streets and after every rain--storm—every day as it is the rainy season—they wash the roadThis despite the fact that no one bothers to ground the live wires in the electrical poles, clear the weeds that are taking over the road, fix the wireless in the lab, remove the piles of knocked down buildings etc…. Somehow the incident also seems oddly exemplary of the clash in especially rural areas of China between hyper capitalist productivity and the imperative to keep everyone employed. And it speaks to the clash of educational classes. Here are men and women, mostly Dai and mostly past middle age, using hand made bamboo brooms to sweep the street that runs through a biopharmaceutical lab and a flagship research station of the Chinese Academy of Science.

So far today I have stayed out of trouble. I also forbade the boys to lay any violent computer games, hoping that this will keep their fraternal smacking and jabbing to a minimum. This did not go as well as I hoped. They immediately a dress-up characters site and wanted to know if it was ok to dress Jesus Christ on the cross in star wars costumes. I said no way, as it seemed like bad juju.


  1. Bonnie,
    I am really enjoying your posts (especially the food-related commentary) and am looking forward to hearing more of your Chinese adventure. If you have time for leisurely reading while you are there I wanted to recommend a book I loved - Shark's Fin and Sichuan Peppercorns ( It's by a cookbook writer Fuschia Dunlop and is a chronicle of her time living in the Sichuan province as a adventurous food-loving young student. I think you might enjoy it.

    Safe travels.