(This Is China-62) June 6, 2019 – Chapter 63 from THIS IS CHINA

CHINA

personal note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order one from Amazon. com   Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, steve, usa june 6, 2019   stephenehling@hotmail.com    blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com

 

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Chapter 63

Tom, a graduate student at Nanchang Aviation University, invited me to spend a night with his parents, in a town called Dexing, about two hours away by car. Tom’s mom came with a driver to the university and we went to his house. On the way, mom decided to stop in a big restaurant to have lunch. I remember she was a little upset because the tea was not hot. The same with the soup. In Chinese homes, the soup was always served bubbling hot. Soup does not taste right if it is not served hot. Americans do not like hot soup. As a Chinese I prefer my soup to be steaming hot. The lunch went well and the drive through the countryside and mountainous areas allowed me to breathe the fresh cool air.

Dexing is a very important town in Jiangxi Province.

In my research about Dexing, I did read something about it in a report on the internet. I kept quiet about it and I did not inform Tom of what I had discovered about his town. “China chemical safety case study: Metals pollution in Dexing, Jiangxi Province” was published January 2015. And this is where Tom lives and both his parents work for the local government involving the copper company. I did not know how serious this was until I read what was in this report. “This case study focuses on metals pollution from Dexing mine; the largest open pit copper mine in Asia and the second largest one in the world. Jiangxi Copper Corp (JCC) is a state-owned company producing more than 900,000 tons of refined copper annually and located in one of the largest copper-gold mining districts in China. Pollution has accompanied the large production output with devastating consequences for local communities. The case study illustrates how a community can be transformed into a ‘cancer village’ as a tragic demonstration of the true cost of these activities. The case study also illustrates the broader issue of metal pollution in China.”

Dexing is a small town and Tom’s parents live right in the center of it. They had arranged for us and a few of his parents’ friends to eat at a restaurant, a short walking distance from the apartment. It is in the same neighborhood, as we would say in America. It was dark and we walked in the light shower. Tom’s parents ordered more dishes than we could all eat. This is the Chinese hospitality. This is China. Whereas in America, individuals would order their favorite individual dishes, not a collective meal like in China where a host would usually order the whole meal consisting of a few meat dishes, vegetable dishes, soup, rice and any local specialties. You can be sure of distinct local dishes or specialties in China. Just like every province likes to boast they produce the best unique tea in China. So I was introduced to the local

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dishes in Dexing. The rule of thumb in America is simple: we will order more if you need more food after the initial order. So there are no leftovers on the table, usually. In my experiences in China, most times there are plenty of leftovers after a meal. I do notice something about the leftovers in China. The nouveaux-riches tend to be extravagant, plentiful, opulent and generous when ordering meals at expensive restaurants and they do not normally take home the leftovers. This is China. The rich tend to clear the table of all the leftovers. Of course, the ordinary people would always ask the waiters for plastic containers to save the leftovers for home.

Tom’s parents were very generous and there were plenty of delicious dishes on the table. The surprise of the evening was Tom’s parents invited me to play mahjong with them, because I had asked if we could play a game of mahjong somewhere. This is me, because I have always told my Chinese students in China: you must learn to ask if you want something done or to happen. It does not mean you will get it all the time, but if you do not ask, nothing will ever happen in your life. How would a company or your boss know what you want from that company? The same with knocking. A door might open if you keep on knocking. I had never stopped asking or knocking the seven years I spent working and living in China.

Mahjong originated in China and spread around the world. Under Chairman Mao, it was considered an illegal gambling and it was totally banned. Though it is everywhere now in post-Mao China, many of my students at the campus would hesitate, initially, when invited to play mahjong with me, an American professor. I would always invite four or five students for a Chinese dinner at a local restaurant, then play mahjong at my residence. My purpose was to introduce students from different majors or departments to each other. To me it was a social event, less about the game, more about getting to know more about other students from different departments studying on the same campus. It was a hit with many students.

I was delighted to play mahjong with Tom’s parents and their friends. We went to a different room in the restaurant to play the game. Maybe they were not sure if an American could play mahjong. Maybe they were curious how well I could play at the mahjong table. Little did they know I had been playing mahjong for years in America.

When I was a young college student in Dallas, Texas, USA, an American host family invited me to their house to play mahjong. And later when I was a teacher in a public school in Washington State, a fellow female teacher invited me to play mahjong with her. And she told me she was a military wife and had traveled to many places around the world. I assumed as a military wife she had plenty of time and chances to learn new things in different military bases around the world.

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Mahjong is like rummy in the West except it uses tiles, not cards. It originated in China going back to the time of Confucius (551-479 BC). Only the ruling classes and the Mandarins (members of the nine ranks of public officials in the Chinese empire) could enjoy this aristocratic pastime.

To my surprise, I discovered that mahjong was imported to the United Sates in the 1920s and became very popular in Washington, D.C. Abercrombie & Fitch sold the first sets in 1920 and later sent emissaries to villages in China to buy every mahjong set they could find. And the company is reported to have sold a total of 12,000 mahjong sets. The original ones were made of bamboo, not plastic like the modern sets. I’ve come across a bamboo set only once in America.

Because many Chinese down the centuries used it to gamble, by the time Chairman Mao took over China in 1949, mahjong was banned because it was detrimental to the pursuit and implementation of Mao’s communistic ideals. It slowly returned to the Chinese society when Deng Xiaopeng came into power in late 1970s but many, including my students, still considered it something associated with gambling. My parents warned me mahjong gambling is bad for us, so they told me not to touch the game. Many students would tell me the same story.

In 1998, about 50 years after it was banned by Chairman Mao, the China State Sports Commission did something to restore the purity of mahjong and published a new set of rules, the International Tournament rules, for a new sport with no gambling, drinking or smoking attached to it. Travel across mainland China, and you will not miss seeing many older men and women enjoy the game of mahjong openly in parlors open to all those interested to play the game with their friends. The truth is most Chinese would only play for money, though public gambling is strictly forbidden by law in China. My Chinese American friends in America would never play mahjong with me unless there is money on the table. I continue to play the game for social reasons and that means only the white Americans and I would play the game during our leisure time. Sad but true. Yes, there are mahjong parlors in almost every city in China today. Most Chinese play for money, not for recreation. This is China. The same is true scattered here and there across the country, you cannot miss small groups of men in their work sites or during their work breaks, playing cards with money on the ground, throwing away their hard-earned money hoping to win some money from co-workers, seldom from complete strangers. I suspect gambling is in the genes of many Chinese men. It should not surprise anyone that many Chinese, win or lose, use the stock markets to gamble and not to invest for their future. One reason, I suspect, to explain the volatility in China’s stock markets at times.

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The game of mahjong has built quite a reputation not only in East and Southeast Asia but across the world. In 2002, the first World Championship in mahjong used these new rules. It was organized by the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee and the city council of Ningbo city, Zhejiang Province, China. The first annual China Mahjong Championship was held in Hainan Island, China in 2003. In 2005, the first Open European Mahjong Championship was held in the Netherlands. And in 2006, the World Mahjong Organization (WMO) was founded in Beijing, China, in cooperation with the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee (JMOC) and the European Mahjong Association (EMA). The WMO held its first World Championship game in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, China, in November 2007. Today, mahjong has become a popular sport in many countries in the world.

I was overjoyed to play it with Tom’s parents and their friends in Dexing. Overall I did win a few games. Time and time again I would joke about sitting facing the door because of my belief in Feng Shui practice. Based on my past experiences, it would seem the player facing the main door would win the most games. And the players would joke about this and volunteered to change seats. We would never do it to prove the Feng Shui claim or theory.

I have read about Feng Shui long ago in Wikipedia: “The front door, or the main door, is very important in Feng Shui, no matter if we are speaking of the front door of a home or the front door of a business. In Feng Shui, the house gets its chi, or energy nourishment, through the front door. So the stronger, healthier and more balanced the front door is, the stronger and better the quality of energy available for those who live in the house.”

It was a great evening and after the game, I was again surprised that Tom’s dad told us to walk to the hotel, a walking distance from the apartment. The road was wet and slippery and we had to avoid puddles of water here and there. I was wearing an old pair of sandals and I almost fell once or twice because there was no traction on the soles. (Right there and then I was determined to buy a pair of walking shoes at a Walmart store somewhere in China. I must replace my favorite fair of American sandals in the cold winter.) Tom’s dad had already booked a room at the hotel and so we had the key and went in by a side door without seeing anyone at the front desk or the reception area at the main lobby to the hotel. It was a cold winter night and there was no heater anywhere in their apartment. When I asked Tom how they were able to survive without heaters in his apartment, he looked at me and calmly said, “We are used to the cold. Yes, there are no heaters in our apartment. Most homes do not have or use heaters in our city.” I might have frozen to death sleeping in such a place. Americans are used to a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, I had two floor heaters and two

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wall air-conditioners in my one-bedroom apartment outside the campus. To the students I was a spoiled, strange American. In the south where I lived and taught, there were no heaters in all the classrooms. Students wore thick clothes when attending the daily classes. I often think Chinese are a different breed of creatures on this planet earth. They can withstand the scorching heat in the summers without air-conditioners, and survive the extreme cold in the winters without the heaters. They are as tough and sturdy as the cave-dwellers in ancient times. This is China.

When we woke up the next morning, Tom’s parents called for us to return for breakfast. Tom’s mom was at the front desk and when Tom and I appeared to return the room key, suddenly the lady at the desk said something to Tom’s mom. Tom’s dad had registered the room in his name and now all of a sudden they saw the real two occupants of the room: Tom and I. And when she found out I was an American visitor, she was a little infuriated and uttered something like, according to Tom, I should have gone and stayed in another hotel. Tom’s mom tried to calm her down. Too late, we had already stayed there for the night. It reminded me again of what happened at the hotels in Fuzhou City: we do not accept your foreign passport. In this little town called Dexing? I suspect Tom’s parents, who were born and live in this community, know everyone, including those working at this hotel. This is China.

I enjoyed the hospitality and the kindness and generosity of Tom’s parents. And the small town atmosphere: peace and quiet and happiness. One of Tom’s uncles drove us back to Tom’s campus in Nanchang. Tom invited his cousin sister, Sophia, also a student at Tom’s university to join us. And I gave her an American ten dollar bill to keep as a lucky charm. She accepted my small gift. Tom thanked me for this gesture.

Tom’s parents are rich and yet they do not have heaters in their apartment. That was the reason he sent Tom and I to spend the night in a hotel with heater in a room.

This is China.

 

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