So this Monday, I started a Chinese class. Its at Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT). Its going to be great. HIT is one of the best schools in China. My class is filled with people from all over the world. There are plenty of Koreans and Russians. There are three Africans, two Arabs, one Canadian, and myself. Its intensive; I’ll have twenty hours of class a week. That’s four hours of class every weekday on top of my (extremely light) teaching schedule. I think I’m going to really learn Chinese. Last night I memorized eleven characters. I was so excited because when I came here, I was content just learning oral Chinese. I was too intimidated by the characters to even make an attempt on my own. It was very rewarding to start down a path you never thought you could travel and feel like you could make it.
However, there is a price to this class beyond what it costs in tuition. For one, I am already behind. The class has already met for a week before I started. I’m twenty hours of class behind, and I have to learn what I missed on my own time. That means I probably won’t go out, wander around, and run into unexpected things like I have been doing. By the time I catch up, I think I’ll be too cold to want to wander aimlessly. Plus, I’m already on backlog for about a week of things I need to write about for the blog, and I expect updates to continue to be sporadic and become less eventful. I’ve made notes on things I want to write about, but I’m afraid the events will lose significance in my mind as time passes. I’m going to write about last week as soon as possible.
With that said, I had my worst moment since I came to China today. I had just walked out of the gates of HIT after class. I was walking toward my bus stop when a little homeless girl walked right in front of me. She was maybe two years old at the most, and she was incredibly cute. She had a thick, fluorescent pink jacket on that had the same tinge of dirt as her face and hands. Her mother was sitting up against the fence in the shade with an infant wrapped in burlap cloth. The little girl asked me for money. Surveying my pockets, I determined that I didn’t have any change, but I had large bills and a one yuan bill and a five yuan bill. The one yuan bill was my bus fare back home. I decided against giving the girl money. I walked past. The little girl runs in directly front of me and says something I don’t understand. I step to the side to go around her. She side steps right in front of me. I go to walk to the other side of her. She slides in front of me again and wraps her arms around both my legs. Her head came up to just above my knees. She looks at me and starts talking. I don’t understand. I say, “I don’t have money. I don’t have money.” Her mother starts talking to the girl. I can’t understand. Everyone else is walking past. People are looking at me because I have been stopped there for a while. Finally, I push my hand on the girl’s head to keep her in the same place. Holding her still, I step out of her grasp and around her. I start walking to the bus stop again. She runs as fast as she can beside me, but at my walking pace, she can only keep up for five steps. She drops off and walks back to her mother.
A couple steps later, I see my bus. I’m about fifty yards from my stop and determine that if I don’t run, I’ll have to wait for the next one. I run, hop on the bus, and quickly slide my one yuan bill into slit in the cash box. The driver looks at me and says two yuan. I look left into the bus. Its one of the air-conditioned buses with extra seats that cost two yuan. I have to slide my five in the cash box and sit down.
Johnny told me about a conversation that he had with an old homeless man. Johnny asked him how much he would get in a day. The man said sometimes he could make eighty in one day, but he doesn’t get to keep it. The old man told him about the beggar “pimp” who goes around and takes ninety percent of what the beggars receive everyday. The pimp is a big strong guy, and the homeless are old men and women with kids who are weak and malnourished. If the pimp isn’t happy with what he gets, he can beat the beggars freely without worry of repercussions. Apparently, this system is the norm for China. I don’t present this story to validate or invalidate my actions today; the ethical questions in giving money to homeless people are beyond where I have attempted to reason. I presented this story to show the added complexity to ethical question in China.
I’d like to thank everyone who has let me know that they are reading. I appreciate the compliments, and I’m glad I can share a bit of this experience with you. Continue to write me. I’ll try to have more of my exploits and pictures up here as soon as possible.