Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Great Kindle Rescue

Sadly I’m not a good enough writer to truly capture the experience of rescuing Jonathan’s Kindle in the Guangzho airport. It sat with the “Luggage Team for a week, and he had been using mine during that time. Luckily he did not get through all of my books. About a year ago I identified e readers as the best low vision aids on the planet and put as much of my research and teaching materials on it as possible. Thank you project Guttenburg! One of my best teaching tricks, or ticks depending on how you look at it, involves using modern texts, music, and videos to seduce techno-craving undergraduates to the early modern and ancient worlds. For example, in my Music and Gender Class I paired up the Kama sutra with a book called Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man. Fortunately Jonathan got stuck in baroque mysteries and didn’t find either of those.

But I digress…. We arrived in Guangzho, the airport from hell, with two hours until our next flight. Apparently this airport has a large problem with foreigners sneaking into China and thus needs extremely thorough and harsh passport control stations. Thank goodness I thought to hide “TinTin in Tibet” very deep in the luggage… They even insisted that Rebecca and Jonathan go through all by themselves, which caused both kids to freak out. And, predictably, Jonathan left his passport with the mean looking passport control guy—I got it back. We retrieved our bags and went to the luggage claim desk where we had been assured that we could call a special phone number and retrieve the lost Kindle. The baggage woman made the call. Describing the Kindle even while holding one proved very difficult. We now know from the news that fake Apples stores with fake ipads abound, but Amazon Kindles have not made it here. The woman very carefully spelled out the logo while looking sort of alarmed at the device. She informed us that we’d have to go to some other location to get it back it but we had all noticed that our flight was already boarding. Thus ensued multiple phone calls with very fast and urgent Chinese. Then she told us to follow her and run. Though she sported a pencil skirt and high-heeled pumps she took off at a pace that would give a lot of runners a run for their money. And we huffed and puffed behind her. Eventually she tossed us onto a stretch golf cart that drove faster than most cars do here in Menglun. We almost took out at least three people. The kids meanwhile looked completely stunned between huffs and puffs. Along the way she said we’d have to pay about 20 Yuan per person for this whole operation, and we said fine assuming this was some kind of airport bribe. Finally the golf cart stopped at an undisclosed location and we were all booted off. She left the kids and me in the rig and took off with Manuel down a back alley of the airport that looked e like it might lead to a little white room where they lock up trouble makers. Somehow he came back with the Kindle, and we arrived at another security checkpoint. We all jumped out of the stretch golf cart and put our bags through security. The kids were by this point almost collapsed in asthmatic fits. As the kids and I got back on the cart Manuel struggled through security and we noticed him emptying out our carry-on suitcase, which caused even more upset to the spawn. “we can’t leave without daddy” “I better go check on him.” Yes, indeed, we had to pass the dreaded cheese test. Cheese appears so infrequently in Chinese airports that they have no idea what it is on an x-ray machine or what to do with it. They made Manuel take it out and everyone sniffed it and we got back on the cart. Somehow we transferred carts and gave some money to a random man and sped along to our gate where, low and behold, the flight was delayed…

The Kindle rescue marked the highpoint of our eighteen-hour journey back to the jungle. For extra fun at each of the three flights you have to fetch your luggage and recheck it. I also enjoyed swiping the little individual servings of New Zealand butter from the first airplane. I felt close to my grandmothers who both embraced diner-snagged sweet-n-low when I opened the packs to fix pasta and butter for the kids. While sitting on these planes I took the time to read thoroughly two Chinese English Newspapers; which do not come this far into remote lands. The news and editorials reminded me again that we do not currently reside in the kind of political system I am used to and that no matter what recent regimes in the White House did to civil liberties we still have it pretty good on the other side of the world. And I might add the tone and tenor of the newspapers is one of many reasons why I do not like my children going through passport control by themselves.

The Sports section argued that Chinese do not excel at soccer because their students are far too busy learning in school to build early skills. A second page news story explained that it would be impossible to reduce the use of capital punishment because life sentences simply do not deter crimes.

We have a large community of Tibetans in Charlottesville so I was drawn to the front page which told the story of the “liberation” of Tibet in 1951. In their version until the Chinese took over “Tibet used to be a society of feudal serfdom under theocratic rule, a society even darker than medieval society in Europe. The dark days are gone.” The article also stated that The US President Barak Obama welcomed the Dali Lama to the white house for a predictable run of Chinese bashing.” The author abhorred the “stale claims of cultural genocide” “For those people everything under the Dali Lama was good. No mention is ever made of the cruel realities of the savage serfdom that existed then.”

At a celebration of the liberation vice president Xi Jinping said that China needs to take immediate steps to prevent infiltration and sabotage activities by Tibetan separatist forces in order to safeguard stability in Tibet as well as national unity. This warning came in the wake of incidents in Hotan just the day before. Depending on which country’s newspapers you read the incident involved police protesters gunning down rioters at a peaceful protest or rioters attacking the police station in an “organized terrorist attack” Just below this news story an opinions piece said that “”The Middle East and North Africa is viewed through western eyes as if the transformation of Ali Babba and the Seven Thieves into Thomas Jefferson and the international Court of Justice.” Full disclosure, a professor at Loyola Marymount in California wrote the last comment.

We arrived back in Banna very late at night, and it seems in some ways almost as far from Hotan and Tibet as it does from Ho Chi Min City. The government classifies the Dai as a good and docile minority, and seems to leave them alone.

Yesterday morning we returned to China normal. After a week of no running in Vietnam, I took off for a steamy rainy run and exchanged pleasantries with the locals. I checked out the pool and found it empty on a super hot day. The kids fought and wreaked havoc on an already trashed house. We took showers in our yucko water. I know now that people pay big bucks to soak in sulfur hot springs, but it’s not great for getting super clean! Eli and I went with our neighbor Sumi to the market in town on a Vespa—yup that’s three of us on one with no helmets and purchased various fruits and vegetables that I’d never seen until we came to China. We chased geckos around our bathrooms.

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